large crowd at Abu Dhabi Mall during coronavirus
A large crowd thronged Abu Dhabi Mall recently as measures against the spread of coronavirus were put in place across all shopping centres in the country. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Several malls reopened in Abu Dhabi on May 1 following the implementation of strict rules to prevent the spread of coronavirus COVID-19.

But one mall in particular caught the attention of netizens in the UAE, after a large number of people swarmed into the shopping centre and flouted all the rules of social distancing.

The viral photo was taken at Abu Dhabi Mall, prompting many to worry about how they can prevent another similar incident from happening again.

The timeline of the photo was soon cleared up as mall management explained that the incident was actually taken two days earlier – April 29 – as mall and shop employees were waiting to pass through the thermal scanners at the main entrance of the shopping mall.

“The image that was circulated on social media about shoppers gathering is incorrect, and was taken when employees returned two days ago as they tried to be scanned in accordance with the new requirements,” said Hadi Gabriel, chief executive officer of Aswaaq management services, who was quoted in the Arabic daily Al Ittihad.

crowds at Abu Dhabi Mall
A long queue at Abu Dhabi Mall. Image Credit: Twitter/ Courtesy: @M_Almasabi

Gabriel also pointed out that the large crowd was soon organized within minutes, and the rules of social distancing was met and followed by all.

However, the incident soon attracted a backlash from concerned residents who disapproved of the employees’ behaviour, regardless if customers were in the premises or not.

“Either way, the gathering of such a large number of people is a mistake, whether it was for testing employees for COVID-19 of if shoppers were trying to get in,” said Yousuf Al Hammadi.

Another resident, Zainab Al Katheeri, said: “You cannot see social distancing in this photo. The health of residents is one of the priorities of the state, but where is social distancing during the tests?”

Following the incident, the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development clarified that it has issued permits to five shopping centres, authorising them to reopen gradually in line with the department’s new set of rules and regulations in the fight against coronavirus COVID-19.

Rashed Abdul Karim Al Balooshi, Undersecretary of the department, said that work is underway with a number of other centers to ensure their full compliance with the conditions and regulations and instructions for reopening gradually.

The shopping centres due to open soon in Abu Dhabi include World Trade Center Abu Dhabi (WTC), Shams Boutik at Al Reem Island, and Remal Mall in Al Ain.

The new directives state that thermal inspection devices and cameras should be installed at all entrances of the shopping centres in order to protect visitors and shoppers before entering the facilities. These devices should be linked to the National Emergency, Crisis, and Disasters Management Authority and in return, the centres will pay fees for the service that will be determined at a later time.

The new rules amid COVID-19 means that shoppers cannot visit malls for more than two hours in order to reduce the overcrowding of shoppers inside the facility and maintain the directive of operating with only 30 per cent of the malls’ capacity.

Al Balooshi further explained that shopping centres that comply to the terms and conditions will be granted permission to reopen and receive visitors and shoppers.

He also added that shoppers should follow the procedures as regulated by the authority, such as passing through thermal cameras, shopping for a maximum period of two hours, wearing face masks, gloves, and applying enough distance between other visitors, as well as the use of credit and debit cards instead of cash.