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Monday Jul 06 2020

Eid-ul-Azha: SOPs thrown out of the window as people flock to country's largest cattle market

Doctors fear if these animal markets aren’t controlled, the country may be reporting on an average 5,000 plus infection cases and over 100 deaths on a daily basis. Photo: File

KARACHI: Despite orders to observe standard operating procedures (SOPs) issued by the management of Pakistan’s biggest cattle market selling sacrificial animals set up at Sohrab Goth over some 960 acres, no signs of social distancing or any other measures could be seen over the weekend as visitors flocked to the market.

Dr Rafiq Khanani, who heads the Infection Control Society of Pakistan, shared with The News how the novel coronavirus situation can worsen after Eid-ul-Azha. He fears that if these animal markets aren’t controlled, the country may be reporting 5,000 plus infection cases and over 100 deaths on a daily basis.

Contrary to the SOPs and the press releases being shared by the market’s management lately, no social distancing was observed at the market late on Saturday night and in the wee hours of Sunday.

Entire families, including women, children and the elderly, were seen at the market with or without masks. However, the SOPs shared earlier by the media team of the market had clearly stated that no one would be allowed to enter or roam the market without a mask.

The SOPs had also stated that women, children and men over the age of 60 would be strictly not allowed, while any sort of festivity would also be discouraged.

Even at the entrance, only walk-through disinfectant gates were installed, but there was no official to check the body temperature of the visitors and buyers using thermal guns. One of the press releases shared by the media department of the market had stated that anyone with high body temperature or a cough or flu would not be allowed to enter under any circumstances.

A security guard told The News that some army officials check the temperature of the visitors, but in the wee hours of Sunday, when the maximum number of people were expected, no such precaution was taken.

The SOPs had also allowed only packed food. Although there was no dining facility at any of the food stalls, kebabs and naans were being supplied in disposable plates and visitors were observed enjoying them in clusters.

In order to enter the market, one has to park the vehicle in the parking space provided by the animal market at a cost of Rs50, which is in violation of the Supreme Court’s order.

The market’s spokesperson Yawar Chawla told The News that there were four entrances to the market and four parking areas. However, he added, on late Saturday night, when visitors from different parts of the city thronged the market, only one parking lot was available and it was poorly managed with no social distancing because there was a single entrance narrowed by tying ropes in a bid to collect parking fees from every vehicle.

There were hundreds of motorbikes and scores of cars clogging the narrow entrance. To avoid the hassle, several visitors parked their vehicles on the street adjacent to the parking area, where several residential societies are situated.

A resident of the Teachers Society told The News that every year due to the establishment of the market, their lives turn into a nightmare. “We can’t enter or exit our society because all the streets are barricaded by the animal market’s management,” said the resident, adding that the streets that aren’t barricaded are clogged by visitors’ parking.

After parking, when one enters the market, there’s a sole walk-through disinfectant gate, but no metal scanner or thermal guns. Inside the market, an old man with a long white beard was seen walking with a stick. When asked why he was there, he said he wanted to buy his animal before the rush of people increased. “No one stopped me from entering. I hopped on a Suzuki pickup and entered the market easily,” he said happily.

Earlier, the market’s management had claimed to have deployed 1,000 security personnel to enforce social distancing, which wasn’t witnessed on Saturday night and in the wee hours of Sunday.

Youngsters were seen packed in cars speeding past visitors, blasting loud music on their speakers. A few children were seen inside the tents, amused by cows and buffaloes in the presence of their private security guards.

Responding to all these observations, Chawla said they have footage to prove visitors are being checked with thermal guns. He made the assurance to find out why there wasn’t any official checking for temperature since Saturday night. As for the entry of women, he claimed they are discouraging that, while children and men over 60 are strictly not allowed.

Since only one gate is open for public entry, he said, they haven’t deployed a lot of manpower at other entrances, so many families and the elderly found their way in. This, he made the assurance, will be controlled in a few days.

Chawla said that as many as eight vehicles keep disinfecting the market at a time, adding that they have installed speakers inside the market to keep asking the buyers and sellers to maintain social distance.

Originally published in The News