Abdul Sattar

MARDAN: Following media reports that restaurants and wedding halls are becoming flashpoints of the coronavirus spread, the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) issued revised precautionary guidelines for holding receptions amid strict compliance of the SOPs.

The NCOC restricted the marriage hall timings and number of guests due to the fears of a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic in the country. The command center directed that marriage halls should not host more than 300 guests for indoor receptions and 500 for outdoor events. It further directed that all functions must end by 10pm. The local administrations have been authorized to take stern actions on the violations of the SOPs. The actions may include closure of the hall and imposition of heavy fines.

In view of the government SOPs, the wedding halls’ administrators in Mardan have been adopting precautionary measures not only to run their businesses but also cater to the public demands. During a visit to a wedding hall, it is observed that tables are placed apart to ensure the principle of social distancing is observed. Also, soaps and sanitizers are put at the entrance of the hall for the guests.

People are also behaving responsibly by following the SOPs. The host families are urging the guests to follow the rules by mentioning it on the invitation cards.

Khan Bacha, a resident of the Muslim Abad locality in the urban Mardan city, plans to hold the walima reception of his son’s marriage in a wedding hall as he doesn’t have enough space at home to host a large number of guests. He says he has been urging his family members and the guests to follow the SOPs so that the event can be celebrated in true spirit.

“We have clearly mentioned in the invitation cards. We are also conveying it verbally to the guests,” Bacha says while referring to the timings and other SOPs. “People are being urged to avoid shaking hands and hugging but as a matter of fact, it is not in accordance with our Pakhtun traditions. People do mind it when they are not greeted warmly,” he remarks and vows that he will try to culminate the event within the stipulated time as advised by the hall’s administration.

An official of the Mardan district administration Sehrish Nigar says that the precautionary SOPs are being forcefully implemented to curb the possible spread of the coronavirus.

“Our teams are regularly inspecting the wedding halls to see whether the SOPs are being followed or flouted during marriage receptions. Our focus is on implementation of the guidelines suggested by the NCOC such as social distancing, disinfection of the halls and availability of sanitizers and soaps for the guests. We are also keeping a close check on the number of guests. The purpose of closely pursuing the matter is because the wedding halls are potential hubs of the virus,” Nigar tells TNN.

According to a rough estimate, there are about 300 to 400 wedding halls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which are providing employment to nearly 30,000 people. With the closure of the wedding halls, these employees, mostly working on a daily-wage basis, also suffered. They were deprived of their livelihoods throughout the lockdown period and remained in a state of hopelessness and depression and eager to work even on half wages to meet their basic necessities.

Khalid Ayub, president of the association of wedding hall owners, says the industry faced tough times during the lockdown. “Our businesses remained closed for about six months during the lockdown which incurred us huge losses,” he says and regrets that the government didn’t provide them any financial relief.

He adds that the owners of the wedding halls have been fully cooperating with the government to curb the possible spread of the pandemic. “We have been regularly disinfecting the halls’ premises and providing face masks to the guests from our own pocket. We are also ensuring the availability of soaps and sanitizers at the venues in order to follow the guidelines,” Ayub maintains.

Khalid Ayub fears that if the government imposes another lockdown in the coming months, it will further destroy their businesses.

“People usually reserve halls in advance but when the government hints about clamping another lockdown, they revisit their decisions and reschedule the events. The wedding season has almost started and if a lockdown is imposed, the industry will suffer irrecoverable losses,” he concludes.