Coronavirus: Dubai's malls reopen but shoppers mostly stay away

Shop owners worry about poor sales as customers err on side of caution

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Malls across Abu Dhabi and Dubai opened their doors on Wednesday but few shoppers walked through them.

Despite measures in place to protect the public from the spread of Covid-19, few visited the shopping centres that have become a major part of UAE living.

The lack of customers has hit shops hard, with many moving their business online to recover sales.

Egyptian perfumer Ragab Mohammad said his shop, Taif Al Emarat, in Dubai Mall, was offering a delivery service.

“Ramadan is a huge month for us but so far the numbers have been well down on what we would usually see,” Mr Mohammad said.

People are clearly very cautious about coming out to shop

“People are clearly very cautious about coming out to shop. We knew it would be difficult and expect that to continue until at least July.”

Only two shoppers at a time were allowed in to browse the UAE-made perfumes on sale, to maintain effective social distancing.

Dubai Municipality inspectors were checking stores in Souq Al Bahar, where retailers clearly displayed the number of shoppers allowed in each store at once.

Larger shops were prepared to let in up to 375 people, while smaller boutique shops were allowing a maximum of five.

Shop assistants at Banana Republic said Dubai Mall usually relied on tourists and expected a tough few months without them while UAE flight restrictions were in place.

“It has been very quiet. We had just five shoppers on the first day of reopening,” one shop assistant said.

Visitors to Dubai Mall had their temperature checked on arrival and most shops accepted only card payments to avoid the risk of infection.

Everyone inside wore a face mask and all prayer rooms, entertainment and other attractions remained closed.

Doors with a red tag outside indicated a shop was full to capacity. Anyone aged over 60, and children between 3 and 12, were barred from entering.

Almost all shops had signs on floors indicating where to stand while queuing for payment to maintain safe distance.

While clothes shops had restrictions on letting customers try on clothes, high-end designer shoe shops such as Jimmy Choo had their own measures in place.

“If anyone wants to try on a pair of shoes, we must take them off display and put them out the back for 24 hours before they can be returned,” the duty shop assistant said.

“We ask all the customers to sanitise their hands and wear socks before trying any shoes on.”

Mark Prendergast, a British marine engineering executive, said the empty mall was a sign that people had listened to government warnings about staying at home.

“Dubai Mall is absolutely dead, I have never seen it so quiet,” said Mr Prendergast, who lives in the Green Community of Dubai.

“It is eerie, almost like a TV show, with so few people around in such a vast area.

“It must have been a tough call to reopen, but it doesn’t look like many people are prepared to take the risk to go shopping just yet unless they have to.”

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , April 29 – 2020 :- Shoppers wearing protective face mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus at Mall of the Emirates in Dubai. Authorities ease the restriction for the residents in Dubai. At present mall opening timing is 12:00 pm to 10:00 pm. Carrefour timing is 9:00 am to 10:00 pm. (Pawan Singh / The National) For News/Standalone/Online. Story by Patrick
Carrefour at the Mall of the Emirates has remained open throughout the shutdown and was busier on Wednesday. Pawan Singh / The National

Those walking between Souq Al Bahar and Dubai Mall usually face crowds of tourists waiting to catch a glimpse of the famous fountains, but there were none on Wednesday.

Visitors to Mall of the Emirates were also greeted by security guards with temperature scanners, and some of the bigger stores provided morel scans.

Most visitors to the mall were headed for Carrefour.

Nadine Bacha, 29, said she had to go to the mall because she was fed up with waiting for online deliveries.

“I went to Carrefour because I am fasting for Ramadan and can’t take any chances with food not arriving when it should,” Ms Bacha said.

“It’s been really frustrating having to wait for groceries as it takes at least two to three days. Sometimes it takes even longer.”

The food court, so often a bustling hive of activity, was practically empty apart from a handful of staff grabbing lunch behind screens put in place for Ramadan.

“It’s been like this since we opened on April 25,” the clothes shop employee said.

“There hasn’t been a single customer through the door since we reopened.

“I’ve had to take a 40 per cent pay cut and worry what will happen if things don’t improve before Eid.”

Accountant Rovelyn Gavino, 49, popped in to Carrefour at the mall to grab some groceries.

“The security guards are taking everyone’s temperatures so you can feel safe when you are doing your shopping,” said Ms Gavino, who is from the Philippines.

“It’s good we can go to the mall again. It’s important to our mental health.”

Psychologist Erum Ashraf, 35, from Pakistan, said she went to the mall only to get essentials that could not be bought online.

“I’m not planning on coming here all the time until the virus scare is over,” Ms Ashraf said.

“I’m only here to get what I can’t buy anywhere else.”

Abu Dhabi retailers said they were waiting for approval to open on Wednesday as staff waited for Covid-19 tests to come back.

At Abu Dhabi Mall, the main entrance was the only one open. There thermal scanners screened shoppers, while most stores remained closed.

Others had shutters half open as staff prepared stock.

One manager said he had not been told when his store would reopen, but "maybe on May 1".

At Galleria Mall, only pharmacies and Waitrose were open.

Staff at H&M said most of their colleagues were still awaiting the results of their nasal swabs.