Pandemic scares away customers from roadside market

This is what the roadside market looks before the pandemic forces people away. Today the place is like a ghost town.

TUARAN: A ghostly silence has descended on Jalan Sulaman here which used to be a hive of activity come weekends.

Located about 30 kilometres from Kota Kinabalu, the area with its rows of wooden stalls flanking the road — operated by local traders selling foodstuffs, fruits and accessories — was a favourite haunt of visitors from far and near.

And, not far from here is Gayang which is known as a haven for seafood lovers. 

However, ever since the conditional movement control order (CMCO) was enforced in Sabah starting Oct 13 due to the sharp spike in Covid-19 cases in the state, the crowds have disappeared from Jalan Sulaman and only a few small stalls are open these days.

Business poor

Fatimah Sahar, 66, who had been selling snacks and local fruits at her stall at Jalan Sulaman for nine years, said business had been dull and that the few stallholders operating there would be grateful each time a car stopped by to buy something from them.  

“(Before the pandemic struck) Jalan Sulaman would be congested during the weekends and the motorists would park their cars on the road shoulder to patronise our stalls. These days, hardly any cars stop here,” she said.

Mohd Eman Junid, 19, who had been helping his family to run a food stall in the same area for two years, said after the CMCO was imposed, business had dropped by 80 to 90 percent for most of the traders there.

“We used to get a lot of visitors from Kota Kinabalu who came to Tuaran for sight-seeing and to patronise seafood restaurants in Gayang,” he said, adding that many of the hawkers who kept stocks suffered losses as the unsold food had gone bad.

Seafood stall operator Zamberi Elok, 42, said for the past decade, the tourism sector contributed to the local community’s income. Furthermore, the Jalan Sulaman stalls provided job opportunities to the locals, who also supplied raw foodstuffs to the stalls and restaurants in the area. 

“I also used to supply raw seafood to restaurants but after CMCO was enforced, the demand has dropped by more than 50 percent due to the absence of tourists,” he said.

Recovery measures

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Jafry Ariffin, meanwhile, said the state government was implementing various measures to revive Sabah’s tourism sector, including upgrading tourism facilities to provide more comfort to tourists. 

His ministry has received an allocation of RM10 million to provide RM20,000 grants to qualified applicants for the upgrading of tourism infrastructure facilities.

“The application for the grants started coming in June and so far, we have received more than 1,000 applications. The ministry is now in the process of issuing offer letters to those who qualified (for the grants),” he said, adding that the state government was committed to implementing plans that would benefit the tourism operators who were affected by Covid-19.

Jafry, however, said the tourism sector, post-Covid-19, would have to adapt to the new normal with tourism emerging as an industry leveraging on new technologies and forging closer collaborations at the international level.           

“The important thing now is for us to control this (Covid-19) crisis successfully with the cooperation of the whole nation. Our success will measure our ability to face any eventuality in the future, whether it is a pandemic or effect of climate change,” he added.

Meanwhile, on the easing of movement restrictions since Dec 7 to allow visitors to enter and exit Sabah, Local Government and Housing Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said individuals were now allowed to enter the state for social visits but they would have to get themselves tested for Covid-19 three days before departure.

He said non-citizens without long-term visit passes would also be allowed to enter Sabah but only after they had secured special approval from the state government.

“These measures will help Sabah to reopen its tourism sector and normalise travel within the state,” he said.

Masidi, however, does not expect an influx of tourists into Sabah just yet as Covid-19 infections are still an issue in other areas.

The Sabah government has also issued guidelines and standard operating procedures for all tourism operators and hotels to adhere to throughout the CMCO period.

“Hotels must set guidelines to prevent Covid-19 transmission in their premises while community-based tourism operators are required to provide briefings on their SOPs before the start of any activity,” he added. – Bernama