Muscat: Ruwi High Street wore a deserted look on Saturday, after the ban on commercial activities came into effect.
Shoe shops, garment stores, barbershops, beauty salons, jewellers, watch repair shops, mobile retailers, and many other businesses had their shutters pulled down, as part of the measures implemented by the Supreme Committee, to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The commercial ban, which began on May 8, will run every day from 4 am to 7 pm, until the evening of the 15th. Exceptions, however, have been made for some shops, offices, and people, who can continue to work under strict guidelines
Groceries, bakeries, halwa, nut, and confectionery shops, ice cream and juice parlours, meat, poultry and fishmongers, shops selling honey, dates, and spices, and fruits and vegetables shops remain open, as will hypermarkets, which are allowed to run at only 30 per cent capacity. Health facilities – including pharmacies, veterinary clinics, and opticians are also open during this week.
Home delivery and takeaway services can be run by restaurants – however, without allowing entry to customers, who are also denied entry into the offices of several other companies that can stay open to complete their day-to-day functions. Delivery drivers from restaurants must also be issued a pass allowing them to travel on the roads during this period.
These include private companies and institutions, transport and storage firms, consultancies, account and audit offices, Sanad centres, postal companies, organisations involved in construction and contracting, insurance agencies, law offices, translation services, and shipping and customs clearance agencies.
Banks, exchange houses, and finance companies can also operate, with their customer areas closed to all except those who need to complete necessary transactions, while maintaining the protocols determined by the Central Bank of Oman.
Construction and contracting firms can continue to work at their field sites after 7 pm, provided they do not leave those areas until after 4 am the next day. The same rules are in place for employees in factories and warehouses and include those involved in loading and unloading goods in these areas.
With stores closing early and running at reduced capacities, Dr Ahmed Al Hooti, the head of economic research at the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI), asked people to finish their shopping well in advance, to avoid the possible spread of infection.
“We see that a lot of people put their shopping off until closing time, and then rush to the shops to complete last-minute purchases for their families,” he said. “When you have this sort of overcrowding, it can lead to a spread of infection, a rise in case numbers, and this will lead to stricter measures by the government – I am sure none of us want that.
“During the Eid holidays, you have a lot of time in the morning, so please go then – plan your shopping in advance instead of being complacent and postponing it,” added Al Hooti, who is also an OCCI board member. “We all know the seriousness of this pandemic, so let us not take it lightly.”
Essential healthcare personnel, emergency vehicles, and those that provide electricity and water services are also permitted to move about during the period of the ban, as are employees at private hospitals, pharmacy workers, under Ministry of Health regulations, and those employed at airports and seaports.
Transport lorries weighing more than three tonnes, and water and wastewater tankers can also move on the roads. Employees in oil fields and those working the night shift at petrol stations, under the supervision of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Investment Promotion (MOCIIP) can also work during the hours of the ban.
Tyre and vehicle repair services, and shops in these stations, can also function, but only up to three customers are allowed at any time. Shops that repair fishing boats and sell the relevant gear can also remain open.
Print and media publications whose employees need to work after the ban comes into effect must be issued a pass by the Ministry of Information authorising them to do so. Similar passes must be provided by the relevant bodies to health and safety inspectors, technicians, and judicial persons.
Fishermen, beekeepers, and food labs are also permitted to work under the conditions of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Water Resources.
The central market for fruits and vegetables, and all slaughterhouses are also free to operate, but at 50 per cent capacity.
People in Oman have asked for everyone in the country to follow the regulations in place, so that the pandemic can come to a faster end.
“During the Eid holidays, no one can say they do not have time to go shopping, or do any other work before the lockdown sets in, because we will all be free,” said Dr Syed Mujahid Hussain, head of the Department of Economics and Finance at the College of Economic and Political Science at Sultan Qaboos University.
“Following the restrictions last year, this is the second year running we will be spending Eid indoors by ourselves – let’s all work together to make this the last time as well.”
Syrian national Bassl Koukash added, “Eid is a festival our children really enjoy, and this year too, they cannot go to see their friends. They have had to sacrifice a lot during the pandemic: their schedules have been disrupted; they don’t go to school because all their classes are online, and they are cautious about playing with their children. I hope we can put the pandemic behind us soon and give all of our children the lives they deserve.”