Choithrams management places stickers on the ground indicating that customers should maintain distance. Layan Community, Dubai. April 11, 2020. Raseel Amro

On the Front-line: Grocery Store Workers and Pharmacists

In a small compound in Dubai called Layan Community, Rohit Mehtani is constantly busy as he manages the only supermarket still open in the area after a lock-down was ordered by the authorities to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Dubai residents now need to apply for permits to go outside their homes. Grocers and pharmacists — some of the only premises still allowed to open, along with medical centers — have enforced tighter sanitary and safety measures.

“We are making sure to take the temperature of all employees three times a day,” Mehtani said in a phone interview. “And we make sure they are wearing gloves and masks while working in the supermarket.”

Mehtani has placed sanitizing bottles for both his employees and customers to use. He also asks customers to wear masks and gloves.

“We are not authorized to check if people have permits to move, but we do check if they wear gloves and masks — we make sure they maintain a certain distance whenever they are near the cash machine,” he said. “There were a few times where customers came into the store without masks and they were unaware that they must be wearing masks, but we explained to them and made them understand that this is required by the government.”

Mehtani said that sales increased by 40-50 percent at his supermarket since the lockdown came into force. “This high demand makes our jobs busier. The working hours have been reduced, so the work has become tougher. It’s difficult to manage but we still complete our work on a daily basis.”

Aneesh Aravind, head cashier at the supermarket, said customers are now buying more than before the confinement period. “What’s happening now is that people are in their homes, so they are consuming more and eating more. They are ordering through the phone as well as online,” he said.

Although Aravind follows all precautionary measures and wears a mask and gloves at all times, he feels nervous about catching the virus. “Being afraid is a normal thing, but we should take care of ourselves so we maintain a distance with customers. But what can I say? I’m afraid. If I get infected, I will spread it to everyone around me.”

Ashwini Sudhakr, who works at a pharmacy in Sustainable City, said the demand for masks is so high that sometimes they run out of stock. “Sometimes we don’t let [customers] who come without masks in, but they tell us that they don’t have masks because we don’t have them in stock.”

Unlike supermarkets, the operating hours for pharmacies have not changed. “We operate from 8 a.m. until midnight. The difference is that we are delivering more because people are scared to come here. We give instructions to our delivery personnel to wear gloves and masks and also to keep a sanitizer with him, and to maintain a distance with the people,” said Sudhakr.

Sudhakr follows precautionary measures and also takes immunity boosters. “Go out only for the necessities, avoid contact with the people, sanitize often and use gloves and masks. Don’t panic—if you panic the immune system will go down.”

Edited by: Raghad Murad

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