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    Malls in Mumbai urge state government to resume operations

    Malls in Mumbai urge state government to resume operations

    Malls in Mumbai urge state government to resume operations
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    By Anurag Tiwari   IST (Updated)

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    While the state government is skeptical in giving a go-ahead due to rising COVID-19 cases, malls are pushing hard to reassure that they are safe enough to re-open.

    While the unlock phases announced by the government now see a majority of economic activities coming back to operational pace, malls across Mumbai are still refrained from restarting the operations.
    With no relief in the rising number of COVID-19 cases across Maharashtra, the state government is still skeptical over taking a positive decision on the re-opening of shopping malls. However, malls are pushing hard to reassure the state government that they are safe enough to restart.
    The Shopping Centres Association of India (SCAI) has written to Maharashtra Tourism Minister Aaditya Thackeray urging him and the state government to take concrete steps in the urgent opening of malls in the state.
    Maharashtra has more than 75 malls across the state, with almost 50 percent spread across the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). SCAI has hinted at jobs of 5 million people in modern retail going under the hammer if malls are not allowed to re-open soon.
    To do away with fear psychosis of COVID-19, shopping malls across MMR are working on the installation of safety & hygiene measures laid down under the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) issued by SCAI and the health ministry of India.
    Thermal Cameras at entrances for temperature scanning at Oberoi Mall, Goregaon (Image Courtsey: Management)
    Anuj Arora, General Manager, Oberoi Mall said, “Remaining cognizant of the fact that our patrons visit the mall to shop and spend quality time with their loved ones, safety measures such as auto thermal scanning at the entrance, ensuring regular and continuous sanitization of all high contact areas and adapting to new innovative technology to provide a wholistic contactless experience will certainly boost their confidence. Precautions taken by the malls and retail stores will be the most influencing factor in a patron’s decision to visit and shop.”
    Safety and hygiene measures installation
    As per the SOPs set by SCAI, a maximum of only one person will be allowed in the 75 sq ft area within malls and retail stores. Once the threshold of the number of patrons inside the malls reaches the permissible limits, entries will be restricted. Social distancing floor stickers will be placed across the malls to ensure a six feet distance is maintained.
    These floor markers will also be visible inside the lifts and at the escalators to make sure people maintain a safe distance between themselves.
    To limit the number of patrons, a 50 percent reduction in sitting capacity will be visible inside the malls including the food courts and restaurants. Inside the washrooms too, patrons will be made to follow social distancing as they will be allowed to use only the alternate facilities. The use of sensor-based water and soap dispensers will be encouraged at large.
    Alongside, parking capacity at the malls will also be reduced making sure vehicles are parked at alternate intervals.
    Along with deep cleaning of retail shops and surfaces through methods like fumigation, cold fogging, etc., the use of UV sanitization will be seen at large across the malls. While UV boxes will be used to scan the baggage at the entrance, UV towers will be installed inside the malls for disinfecting the coronavirus prone areas.
    Also, a few malls like in Viviana & Oberoi, UV sanitizations have been put in place on the escalator belts to sterilize the touchpoints.
    Contactless dining through QR code inside the Oberoi Mall, Goregaon (Image Courtesy: Management)
    Social distancing through digital means will be one thing to look out for when malls re-open in MMR. From digital payment facilities, to scan and pay for orders, a host of QR code activities will be installed inside the malls to facilitate the contactless shopping experience.
    Patrons visiting the malls will now have the option to schedule their visits to the mall by pre-booking the time slots online at their concerned retail stores.
    Naviin Ibhrampurkar, Head of Marketing and Corporate communications, Inorbit Malls said, “For shopping malls, this is the time to explore new ways of engagement as consumers evolve with the new normal. We at Inorbit Malls in Mumbai will introduce the virtual shopping experience via video calls where there are human touch and technology going hand in hand. Consumers can browse for products via a video call with the store staff and get the desired products delivered to their home or schedule a pick up from the mall curbside and get their favorite products the same day.”
    Social distancing floor stickers inside food court at Sea Woods Grand Central Mall, Navi Mumbai (Image Courtesy: Management)
    Jayen Naik, Senior Vice President - Operations and Projects, Nexus Malls said, “In addition to implementing the SOPs issued by SCAI like checking of Arogya Setu app before allowing entry inside, the mandatory wearing of masks at all times, use of sanitizers and thermal screening of every individual, we have collaborated with Bureau Veritas, a certification organization, to launch the ‘Safety First’ initiative across all the malls in our portfolio. As part of the initiative, Bureau Veritas will audit all our properties every fortnight to ensure 100 percent compliance of the specified guidelines and ensure optimum standards of health and safety recommendations are followed.”
    Social distancing markings and UV sanitization installed at the escalator belt inside Viviana Mall, Thane. (Image Courtesy: Anurag Tiwari)
    Malls await the state government’s decision
    While the malls are all geared up to again welcome their patrons, uncertainty is still here over how the latest the Maharashtra government allows them to re-open.
    Though malls continue to adhere by the restrictions imposed on them considering the safety of their patrons, retail partners and staff, discrepancies in the minds of mall owners continue to grow as the malls across other metros and tier-II cities like Delhi, Bengaluru, Lucknow, Ahmedabad, etc., which are equally prone to the spread of the virus, remain functional.
    Manoj K. Agarwal, CEO, Viviana Malls said, “It is reassuring to see the confidence posed by the state governments across the country in SOPs of SCAI and the ability of malls to strictly adhere to social distancing guidelines and provide a safe shopping experience. We have urged the Maharashtra Government to give us the opportunity to at least start operating in a controlled manner and help in the industry’s survival.”
    Santush Kumar Pandde, Head, R City Mall is optimistic that operations for malls in MMR can resume early next month. “Now that almost everything except malls is allowed, we expect the next is us. We have worked on various safety measures and SOPs to ensure that our customers, retailers, and our staff feel safe at all times. Malls across Maharashtra should now be allowed to re-open.”
    According to Amitabh Taneja, Chairman, SCAI, the retail industry has already seen losses exceeding Rs 1,00,000 crore since the implementation of lockdown. While a time projection is difficult for recovering these losses, retailers and shopping centers have submitted their pleas to the state government to allow them to restart working as according to them further lockdowns will end up in drying their cash reserves.
    Naik stated that at Nexus Malls, within six weeks of operations across its five malls which have reopened in other parts of the country, the average weekly footfall has seen a week-on-week increase by 13-15 percent.
    “Our conversions are over 90 percent since reopening and we have seen a 25 percent week on week increase in our sales numbers over the last six weeks, which is a good start. With the festive season around, if we are allowed to resume operations in Maharashtra, we will be on our path to recovery,” he added.
    Though normalcy looks far from reality shortly across all verticals of society, shopping centres believe that if they are allowed to restart, things should stabilize within a year provided COVID-19 cases don’t increase and a vaccine is found soon.
    “Normalcy will only resume when the right treatment and vaccine for COVID-19 is in place. Post that it will take good six months to bounce back. With cases going up there is no certainty at this moment. It seems we will take one year to return to normal grounds,” expressed Pandde.
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