How to reduce risk of infections as lockdown eases

MUSCAT: As the lockdown eases and businesses across the Sultanate begin to reopen, people have begun contemplating if, and how, they should plan their visit to malls, hotel, restaurants, barber-shops and salons. As things begin to limp back to a semblance of normalcy, it is natural to be optimistic and forget the lurking dangers.

The recent announcement of the opening up of restaurants, salons and malls has been cautiously welcomed by people. However, before you walk into your favourite salon for that much-needed TLC, there are certain precautions to be observed. This is especially important as the beauty industry involves physical contact with clients, whether it’s a simple hair-cut or even basic grooming. Do a thorough check to ensure that salons are following strict hygiene and safety protocols.

Hair dressers, Barber-shops and Salons have been advised to stagger appointments to ensure that only a certain number of people are serviced at a time. The fewer people in an enclosed space, the better to reduce the potential risk of infections. It is also mandatory now for stylists and salon staff to not only sanitize tools being used between each client, but they are also required to disinfecting chairs and surfaces and ensure that they wash their hands before attending to each customer as well. “I’ve already booked an appointment for a haircut, but am apprehensive about my visit to the salon,” said Tasneem Sheikh who admitted that, “while, I’ve been waiting for the salon to open, I am going to exercise a lot of caution and will return home if I find too many people.”

Like Tasneem, many of us have begun to struggle with the decision of whether we should be stepping out to salons, restaurants and malls or stay home and minimize the risk of infection. Scientists agree that the corona virus primarily spreads between people via droplets that move through the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks. What is even scarier is that the virus can be transmitted by symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals alike. Clearly, it is better to err on the side of caution rather than be careless.

Doctors suggest that the best way to ensure your safety is to completely avoid places where people congregate, and if that is not possible, minimize how much time you spend in enclosed public spaces. Studies have shown that the risk of infection is higher in poorly ventilated, crowded areas than it is outdoors.

Keeping this in mind, the most important risk assessment Usman Al Hashmi makes when choosing to visit his favourite restaurant, for example, is how well he can maintain his distance from other customers while inside. “As restaurants and cafes begin welcoming patrons back, it is very tempting to plan a night out with family and friends, especially over the weekend. However, I feel that this could well be a recipe for disaster. As a family, we have taken the decision to continue ordering in occasionally and may not be visiting restaurants immediately,” shared Usman.

Aware of the risks involved, cafes restaurants have been advised to follow stringent rules and ensure social distancing as much as possible. Eateries are required to space tables at least 2 meters apart, provide sanitizers and ensure that both customers and staff wear masks. From the restaurants at the famed Shangrila Barr al Jissah in Muscat (pictured left), to Alila Jabal Akhdhar and Salalah’s iconic hotels, these measures are strictly enforced by luxury international chains and the same is to be expected from smaller hotels and inns. Customers can now expect to receive disposable menu’s or even better should look up menus online instead of asking for a physical menu. It might also be best to avoid “all high touch surfaces” like salt and pepper shakers and the bill folders that staff use to present checks.

Similar precautions need to be taken when visiting shops and malls. Amanda Williams says that she plans ahead and makes a list of what she needs before stepping out for grocery shopping. “I also try plan my trips to the mall when I know that there will be fewer people around, like early in the morning or around lunch time.” She suggests strictly following recommendations made by health professions, including the mandatory covering of the nose and mouth with a mask. “As an added precaution don’t touch items you don’t intend to buy. Avoid touching your mask, eyes, or other uncovered parts of your face for the entirety of your errand,” she says.

No one can predict just how long this virus will be around. So, let’s take all necessary precautions to stop the virus from spreading and ensure the safety of our family, friends, and community.