Story: Gautam Viswanathan
“We can meet our friends now.”
It was a simple sentence, just six words long, but one that dripped with the relief and joy many felt in Oman when they heard the news of the reopening of many of the facilities that had been temporarily shut to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The news of the reopening of many of Oman’s shops, gyms, and restaurants, in many ways, thanks to the internet, spread across the country in a mere matter of minutes, and was welcomed almost universally by both Omanis and expats alike, who can now once again visit many of their favourite places.
The temporary shuttering of so many of the places we took for granted to always remain open has made so many of us realise just how valuable these things were to us. Many of us truly didn’t appreciate the value of a leisurely stroll with our friends and the pleasure of contentedly sipping on a coffee or karak chai, inhaling the sights and sounds around us.
“It’ll be so nice to welcome guests once again,” said a director at one of Oman’s hotels. “Yes, there will be some things to which we need to adjust, and put COVID-19 protection measures in place, but it is nice to see that more activities will be reopened now.
“Many restaurants and hotels have had a tough time during this period, with only deliveries and takeaways being allowed, but we realised we needed to close so that the people could stay safe and well,” he added.
The resumption of these economic activities were part of the fifth stage of reopening businesses in Oman, and provide people the opportunity to once again look forward to the simple things they enjoyed doing on the weekends that provided them so much joy.
Of course, all of us will have to take precautions: social distancing measures have to still be maintained, with the signs put up in nearly every shop a constant reminder of the protocols we need to follow. Masks also have to be worn in public places, and those who don’t abide by these rules will need to pay a fine.
“For the last so many weeks it’s been the same routine for us,” said Ahmed Faisal, an expatriate from Pakistan living in Al Khuwair. “My wife and I go to work in the morning, we come home, visit the supermarket to buy a few things, and then go home. At night, so that we stay active, we take a walk, but now that many things have reopened, it will be nice to go out again. We need to be cautious though: people who take the coronavirus lightly are harming others as well as themselves.”
With the gyms among those establishments which have only just been allowed to reopen, many of those who’d been unable to visit them over the past few months. Although they are only open to hotel guests right now, Sudheer Kumar hopes the gyms will soon be reopened to the public as well. To keep fit, many people had taken to walking or going for a run with their family members and friends on tree-lined footpaths, and it wasn’t uncommon to see many people, outdoors and in masks, once the sun had set.
“Honestly, I was feeling frustrated, just sitting at home,” he admitted. “Yes, I used to go for a walk with my father, but it’s not the same as going out. The gym was not just a place to keep fit, but also helped as a stress buster and get away from the problems we face otherwise, and a chance to meet and chat with people. I will have to be careful when I go back there, but I am looking forward to going when the gym is open to all.”
Despite the optimism seen by many, Hassan Al Ghafri is among those who are still naturally cautious of meeting their friends so soon, with COVID-19 still a very real concern.
“My friends asked me if I wanted to meet them next week, but it is natural to be cautious right now,” he said. “It takes only one meeting to contract the infection, and you could then suffer a lot, and put other people in danger as well. It is simply not worth it right now, as I also have a wife and two young children, so I have to be cautious.
“I am sure there are others who will think like me as well,” added Al Ghafri. “It is only natural. On the phone, until very recently, whenever we used to call someone, we’d receive an automated message telling us to stay at home, unless it was absolutely necessary to venture outside, and I think the same is appropriate now as well.” – [email protected]