AL-MUKALLA: Despite being bombarded by WhatsApp and text messages telling him to stay at home to avoid contracting the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Waled Al-Baiti was not convinced this was the right time to close his clothes shop.
“I still think there is no need for closing my shop and stay at home all day,” Al-Baiti told Arab News after shaking hands with a shopper.
He was not wearing gloves or a mask, but said he took health guidelines seriously by keeping his distance from other people and disinfecting his hands after touching a customer.
“I would only close my shop when a case was discovered or the state asked me to do so,” Al-Baiti said, arguing that a large number of shop owners in his city shared the same view about keeping their businesses open until the disease was detected anywhere in Yemen.
When he goes home in the evening, Al-Baiti stays at home and keeps social distancing.
“I apply the guidelines in the evening. I do not mind staying at home all the time but the disease has not spread yet,” he said.
Yemen’s government and local authorities have taken precautionary measures to prevent coronavirus from sneaking into the country, such as shutting down schools and land crossings and banning large gatherings. Local radio and TV stations have helped spread awareness about the importance of complying with the rules.
The government has not ordered a lockdown, instead asking governors to impose measures where and when deemed necessary.
In the southeastern province of Hadramout, security forces banned vendors from selling on the streets of Al-Mukalla, but allowed malls, supermarkets and shops to open.
Hadramout Gov. Faraj Al-Bahsani banned qat-carrying vehicles from entering the province and shutting down qat markets. But residents cast doubt about the local authority’s ability to enforce the ban, with the stimulant green leaves widely consumed in Yemen, arguing that even Al-Qaeda militants had failed to ban qat when they ruled the city in 2015.
“If anyone is addicted to qat, he should chew it alone,” Al-Bahsani said in a televised speech early this week.
In the old neighborhoods of Al-Mukalla, Ala’a, a vegetable seller, agreed with many residents that the city should only be placed on lockdown should COVID-19 appear in the city. “I am not in favor of closing businesses now,” Ala’a, who was wearing a white mask and gloves, told Arab News.
Ala’a’s resistance to closing businesses is driven by his concerns about losing his source of income. “The government should help people with money if it wants them to stay indoors. Many people would be forced into skipping meals if their businesses were shuttered,” he said.
The streets of Al-Mukalla on Wednesday appeared as lively as usual, although heavy rains restricted the movement of people. Shops, mosques and public offices were open. Students whose schools were closed, meanwhile, played football in the streets or on the beaches.
Usama Al-Amoudi, a worker at a local NGO in Al-Mukalla, said that he fully complied with government guidelines by keeping his distance from people, and wearing gloves and masks. When he finishes his work at 1 p.m., he stays indoors until the next day.
“I stopped hanging out with friends or praying in mosques. I spend my time watching TV and using social media,” Al-Amoudi told Arab News.
Like residents of Al-Mukalla, Al-Amoudi said that long power cuts and rising temperatures had discouraged people from staying indoors.
“The electricity outage is driving people from homes. If the state wants us to stay at home, it should provide us with electricity,” he said.
Local traders said a food shortage was unlikely, as residents had not rushed to stores in large numbers. Faris bin Hilabi, a trader and the deputy of the Hadramout Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Arab News that food stocks would feed people for another six months without panic-buying, adding that shipments of goods through Al-Mukalla seaport had not been affected by the spread of COVID-19.
“The food is in abundance. Officials at Al-Mukalla seaport should allow ships that carry food to unload first,” Hilabi said.