By ILONA ANDREW
KOTA KINABALU: After more than two months of zero income, hawkers of Gaya Street Sunday Market can finally heave a sigh of relief when the market is allowed to reopen today.
When the movement control order (MCO) began on March 18, the Sunday market, and every other business premises were closed in order to help curb the spread of Covid-19 in the state.
The market, which has stood and thrived for decades and vibrates with the colourful cultures Sabah, has always been known as the state’s must-visit spot for foreign tourists.
Hawkers at the market mostly depend on purchases by tourists to generate income. The Sunday market is usually thronged as early as 6am.
However, they had no choice but to put their business intention aside since tourist arrivals were temporarily halted to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Although the Gaya Street Sunday market has finally reopened today, the atmosphere would most likely not be the same as how it used to be – there may not be any foreign tourists at all, considering that the war against the coronavirus is still ongoing globally.
Despite that, hawkers are still grateful to finally be back in business knowing that they can count on the locals who love to shop at the market, as much as the tourists.
Tan Hoe Heng who sells plants for a living was delighted about the reopening, but he reckoned that safety measures must still remain as everyone’s top priority to ensure that the health of both hawkers and customers alike can be safeguarded.
“The virus is unpredictable and it is no doubt that we are still worried (of possible spread).
“Therefore, we must safeguard each other’s health by complying with the standard operating procedures (SOP) such as keeping a safe social distance, especially when the crowds are massive,” he said when met by Borneo Today here, on Sunday.
He added that among the SOPs that hawkers must adhere to is that the stalls have to be at least two meters’ away from each other.
“I also have no problems interacting with the customers since all of them complied with the SOP, such as wearing face masks,” he said.
Tan, who is also the official treasurer of the Gaya Street Hawkers’ Association, said the number of visitors were not as many as before.
Nonetheless, he believed that the situation at the market will eventually improve.
The profit he made during the first day of the reopening was not as much as he initially expected, but he said it was enough for him to survive.
“This is a family passed-down business and it is now handled by me and my wife. It serves as a platform for us to promote and introduce our plants.”
He explained that he owns a plant nursery and mainly promotes his products at the market.
For the past 10 years, Yong Siew Lee has remained as one of the hawkers at the Gaya Street Sunday market, selling and toys grocery items.
She would sometimes set up her stall at the Metro Town weekend market in Kolombong, but the last two and a half months had been really challenging for her since all markets were ordered close.
“This is my only income, so it was really bad for me (when the markets are closed). I only stayed at home ever since… My income was totally cut off,” she expressed.
Yong said, she was glad to finally be back in business although she knew that her profit would not be as much as before.
“Of course the number of visitors today is not as crowded as it used to be, but this it is still quite okay, considering the situation,” she said.
She added that wearing a face mask is a must in the premises and she would hand out a face mask to each of the visitors who does not have it.
“I would also wear gloves and adhere to the safe social distancing containment measure.
“When interacting with customers, I try to avoid a close distance. After serving each customer, I will use hand sanitiser so that I can serve the next customers,” Yong explained, adding that all of her customers complied with the SOP.
Meanwhile, Dayang Nur Amalinah who regularly assists her aunt selling fashion accessories at the Sunday market hopes that the business would eventually pick up.
“Today we started operating at 5am and finished at 12.30pm. For the visitors, they can only access to and exit from this market through the same entry point.
“Among the SOP that we must adhere to are the use of face masks and hand sanitisers,” she said.
Earlier, City Hall Mayor Datuk Nordin Siman and Likas State Assemblyman Tan Lee Fatt were present at the Gaya Street Sunday market for an inspection. They were accompanied by the president of Gaya Street Hawkers’ Association, Lee Chee Kong.
Only 60 people at any one time were allowed to be inside the premises and it was learned that a total of about 100 people had visited the market today.
Today, only 69 stalls were opened as those selling food and beverages are currently not allowed to operate. The SOPs were set up by the Gaya Street Hawkers’ Association.
Just like any other business premises, visitors must jot down their details and get their body temperature taken before they are allowed to enter the premises.