Keep the distance... That's one of the rules malls in the UAE will be enforcing as they gear up for a re-opening. File picture used for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: Retailers have been told to be ready for an imminent re-opening of some malls in Dubai… and that could be from April 25 itself.

In communication sent out to tenants, managements at leading malls in Dubai are saying there will be a “partial reopen” from Saturday for those “retail outlets authorised to reopen between the hours of 12:00pm and 10:00pm”.

This, the mall owner says, will apply to all its malls in the UAE.

Even then, retailers still have the flexibility to decide the date they re-open. As one mall owner advises: “It is not mandatory your stores opens on this date, but we encourage you to open with all precautions in place as soon as possible. Please inform us of your decision.”

Al-Futtaim group confirmed it will open its malls and with trading hours of 12pm-10pm. In a statement, Timothy Earnest, Group Director at Al-Futtaim Malls, "We will operate in accordance with all guidelines to ensure the health and safety of our employees, customers and tenants. With this in mind, we implore all visitors to fully comply with the precautionary measures in place at our malls."

So far, retailers say that they have not received any firm authorization from the leading malls in Abu Dhabi.

Who can open and for how long?

Of course, malls will open, as well other retail-focussed shops. So will “open” souqs. In addition, restaurants and F&B outlets can also go about their business – but with strict limitations on the number of customers they can serve at any particular time.

These retail services have been placed in the “exempted sector”, which means they do have a greater flexibility on operating hours and other schedules. (Supermarkets and pharmacies operate on their own schedule.)

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Being essential services, supermarkets and pharmacies will operate outside of any restrictions on the number of working hours. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

‘Gulf News’ contacted car dealerships and other high-street retailers for confirmation they too plan to open within the next few days.

But some auto dealers are revving back into action in Dubai. "We are starting from tomorrow (April 25),” said Gautam Jain, Managing Director at RK Globals, which handles the Royal Enfield bikes. “The store in Al Quoz will continue operation as per the guidelines of the authorities concerned by exercising all precautionary measures.

“We will disinfect the showroom as per the protocol; and the disinfection will be carried out on all the bikes before and after the test drives.”

The directives from the Government also allow maintenance and repair services as an “exempted sector”.

According to Baiju Kurieash., a consultant to Dubai Shopping Malls Group, “The guidelines are well-thought through for this stage of the re-opening, with 30 per cent capacity being the key. Mall owners, retailers, consumers and the local authorities have specific responsibilities to maintain safety at shopping malls and outlets.

“Time is needed by each segment to preparing for such measure as we are waking up to a new normal in retail. The good news is that everyone is thinking new ways to overcome each hurdle.”

How long can shoppers spend their time at malls?

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Three hours... and not a second more. That's all visitors will get to spend at the malls. And do wear the mask at all times. A fine of Dh1,000 awaits those who don't. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Unlike before, there is a clear limit placed on the number of hours a mall visitor can spend there.

All mall visits will be limited to a “maximum of three hours per day”, confirms a mall manager.

Not just that, all visitors must adhere to the new social norms of today. It means they have to “ensure” a physical distance of at least two metres from others at all times.

Make sure to carry the plastic… cards. “Smart payments (credit card and debit card) are recommended as a means of ensuring physical distancing between employees and customers,” the mall management states.

Cash, at least for now, is not the king.

Is the visitor’s age a factor?

It definitely will be – visitors to the mall above 60 years and children between 3 and 12 years will “not be permitted” as the safety guidelines kick in. And all mall visitors will have their temperature screened prior to entering the mall.”

Can mall visitors head for the multiplex?

They can’t. Cinemas, family entertainment zones, gyms, prayer rooms, and changing rooms are excluded from hosting any activity for now.

Age does matter... anyone over 60 and between 3 and 12 years cannot head for the malls these days. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive.

But surely, mall visitors can have a bite at a restaurant in those three hours?

Again, there will be restrictions – There will be reduced seating capacity and a minimum distance of 4 metres per individual should be maintained.

And between tables and seats, there should be a 2 metre separation.

The tables and seats need to maintain a minimum distance... and F&B outlets also have to make do with reduced seating arrangements.

What about staff at the malls and street-side stores?

This is the question that retailers are still debating, and for which they haven’t come up with a definite answer.

Given the reduced operating hours – 12pm to 10pm at malls – and the limits on visitor traffic, “There will not be a need for the full sales staff at outlets,” said a fashion retailer. “It’s far easier to rotate available staff across days rather than have them come to work every day.

“It’s something that will still need working on. Getting someone to print stickers, get enough masks and gloves, and get staff tested will still be a difficult task… in the initial days.”

But retailers are looking to a time when things will get back to normalcy. According to Karim Merchant, Group CEO and Managing Director at Pure Gold Jewellers, “We will start the first phase of opening with limited staff to ensure social distance measures are in place and gradually hope to operate with our full staff strength.

"I believe mall stores can open from April 25 as per the government directives and maintain certain restrictions."

Staff will also need to be on top of all the safety and health guidelines from the go. According to Pankaj Kumar, Head of OmniChannel Retail at Jumbo Group, “Our store teams have been briefed regarding sanitation, social distancing and use of protective face masks and gloves in store.

“We are here to support the government in whatever steps it needs to take to protect public health, while also safeguarding the socio-economic health of our communities.”

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Gold jewellery retailers will have to wear gloves and masks once the trade opens for business. Shoppers too need to go through the same rigorous safety measures. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Will staff be tested for symptoms as well?

As with visitors, staff at malls too will go through the checks. “The re-opening of retail in a safe manner will include testing retail staff for COVID-19 before they are put back to work,” said Kurieash. “This is a time consuming exercise considering that some of the leading malls and their tenants have over 10,000 staff members even if the operation are limited to a single shift. “Capacity and scale of testing is good - however lets be mindful of the time that this should be made available to re-open sooner.”

Are there restrictions on visitor movements within a mall?

Most definitely, there are.

“All malls - and tenants - must maintain an occupancy ceiling of 30 per cent of the mall’s common and “gross leasable area”,” according to the communications sent by malls to its tenants. What gross leasable area means in this case is that these restrictions would apply to inside the stores as well.

“To enforce this requirement, all retail outlets must display a “red tag” at their entrance to alert visitors when the premise’s maximum capacity has been reached.”

What should mall visitors and staff not forget?

At all times, wear the mask – across the property. If not, they are eligible for a Dh1,000 fine from the Police. No two ways about that.

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Don't leave the mask at home... that excuse will only cost you Dh1,000. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive