India will significantly reopen its economy on Monday after a strict 70-day lockdown that severely disrupted businesses, dented household incomes and forced millions of migrant workers to return home.
The resumption of operations at shopping malls, hotels and restaurants will mark the start of ‘Unlock 1.0’--the first phase of the end of the prolonged lockdown that first began on 25 March.
This will come at a time when the coronavirus tally has been rising rapidly, with India recording the highest single-day spike in cases for the past five days. India, which has 255,906 coronavirus cases, on Saturday surpassed Spain to the fifth spot among nations worst-affected by coronavirus. It is currently behind the US, Brazil, Russia and the UK, as per the Johns Hopkins University live dashboard of the disease.
Businesses which have been hit hard have expressed relief and have plans to follow the government’s safety norms.
Earlier this week, the Union health ministry issued standard operating procedures (SOPs) for workplaces, malls, religious places, hotels and restaurants to limit the spread of covid-19. On Sunday, the ministry warned the relaxations should not be taken for granted if the country wants to ward off the contagion. “We have already prepared and circulated an even more exhaustive and stringent SOPs that not only conform to the guidelines set forth by the health ministry, (but also aim) to ensure malls and shopping centres offer the safest possible environment," said Amitabh Taneja, chairman, Shopping Centres Association of India.
Several states have started making preparations. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Sunday announced that malls, restaurants and places of worship will reopen from Monday.
The Delhi border, which was sealed last week by adjoining states amid rising cases in the national capital, will be reopened for inter-state movement. While malls and restaurants will resume activity, hotels and banquet halls will remain shut, Kejriwal said.
As Noida and Ghaziabad are hubs of shopping malls in Uttar Pradesh, the state chief minister Yogi Adityanath, at a high-level review meeting on Sunday, directed all the divisional commissioners to review developmental and revenue-related activities in their respective divisions.
Shopping malls, retail stores, restaurants and hospitality industry are hoping that they will be able to receive customers as they draw up plans to abide by the new safety rules. Malls are expecting modest footfalls of up to 20-30% in the first few weeks, and retailers said they are waiting to renegotiate with mall developers for lower rentals.
“In the first few days, we expect footfalls to be around 30% of pre-covid levels, all tenants are on stand-by to open up," said Abhishek Bansal, executive director of Pacific India that operates malls in Delhi-NCR.
Bansal said the developer has reached some level of agreement on rent with tenants.
“While opening stores is critical for revival of the economy, we would like to reiterate that the health and wellness of our customers and employees are of paramount importance," said Shivendra Nigam, CFO, Cantabil Retail.
Shopping experience is set to be markedly different as India enters the new normal. “Temperature checks at mall entrances and use of Aarogya Setu app will be made mandatory . We are also setting up all necessary protocols to maintain the 6-ft social distancing norms. Our F&B brands will reduce seating arrangements to 50%," said Pushpa Bector, executive director, DLF Shopping Malls.
Saumya Tewari, Suneera Tandon & Shuchi Bansal contributed to this story.