Social distancing fails in world of markets
I FEEL compelled to bring this to community notice, but am certainly in two minds. I feel a bit like the Grinch who stole Christmas – but I think there is a real potential danger here (if we are to believe all the distancing information and rules we have been subjected to over the past couple of months).
I think of the strict protocols we have all reluctantly learnt to abide by while doing our shopping and going about our everyday life. For instance, I seemed to be playing Pacman on Friday in the narrow men’s clothing aisles at Big W Nambour. I would head up an aisle, meet someone coming the other way, and one of us would beat a strategic defeat to let the other one through. This was done in good spirit and it worked.
I contrast that to my visit to my favourite market at Yandina – where chaos would be the best description. Mind you it is the colourful, noisy, chaotic atmosphere that is part of the charm of all markets, and Yandina is no exception.
I was unaware that the market has stayed open right through the pandemic. I am a reasonably regular attendee, and I started to go back three weeks ago, when there were mainly food suppliers only.
There were about 30 per cent of stalls open, crowds weren’t large, and it was pretty easy to do the distancing thing.
Things have mushroomed since then. Yesterday was completely different. Crowds were almost as large as pre-pandemic days, with surrounding streets and car parks near capacity. Effective distancing was extremely difficult, if not impossible.
Due to the nature of the entity, it would be nearly impossible to create systems to assist people to keep required distances in any meaningful way.
There are multiple entrance/exit points, the pathways (though generally wide) are not really wide enough to allow people to pass, all the while maintaining a minimum 1.5m distance from people at the stalls on each side, and from other pedestrians.
Having one-way aisles wouldn’t help, as you would need similar room to overtake someone else – and no one is in a hurry on market day.
Paths and surroundings are either dirt or grass, and the very few attempts to mark out social-distancing guides were not obvious or were ineffective.
I really do understand how we all stepped into this alternative reality and seemed to forget the real world for a while.
Last week, a very effusive young lady in flowing robes and in the middle of a walkway gave the hippie hug to a group of friends (or a family) – “Haven’t seen you for weeks”, followed by hug hug hug hug.
Last Saturday, there were two young mums with prams and young kids propped on each side of the narrow concrete entrance path – leaving about a metre gap for people to pass through both ways.
I thought about saying something, but felt uncomfortable. It would be awkward, and dare I say un-Australian? I did, however, gently protest to the guy behind me in the coffee queue (there were lots of queues – impossible to space out correctly). He was engrossed with his phone, and nearly bumped into me a few times as we shuffled forwards.
He apologised and all was good. In fact, we had a good chat – at a distance. It seems that this is a fantasy land that we all enjoy – as it contrasts to the real world out there at the moment. To have no signs at the entries to remind us about social distancing (people were certainly attempting to in the main but failing), no signs on-site to remind us of hand sanitation (and I don’t believe I saw any sanitising stations on the whole site), no reminders to wash the fresh fruit and veg that we bought because most of it is picked from open boxes, and has no doubt been handled multiple times.
And not one person on site who obviously worked for the organisers, who could in some way have been able to smooth traffic flow and reduce congestion.
OK – I can decide not to take the increased risk and so not attend the market personally, but if I understand the COVID-19 situation correctly, if a cluster were to develop there, it could then easily spread throughout the community.
It was a windy day (low risk of transmission?) and there were no coughs or sneezes to be heard, but if this behaviour is to continue, we may be leaving ourselves open to problems as crowds increase further.
In stark contrast to this, I was listening to the local ABC radio on my way home, where the manager of the original Eumundi Markets was being interviewed. She was talking about a delayed July restart, due to the range of problems to be dealt with in order to keep people safe during the pandemic.
She spoke of regulating the number of entry points, limiting traffic direction in places, increasing spacing between vendors and even market staff setting up the site for vendors completely, to reduce contact between vendors as they set up and take down their structures.
I know Eumundi deals with larger crowds, but it was refreshing to hear the thoughts and considerations going into their preparations.
Yandina Market has flown under the radar, and “she’ll be right, mate” is the rule of the day. Normally I would support that stance, but in these strange times, I think we should all be making small sacrifices for the good of everyone.
I know that this is a place where many people make their living, and I fully support them wherever and whenever possible. I love the variety, quality and creativity of the goods on offer. I love the unstructured atmosphere. I want it to continue and thrive.
Hopefully, Sunshine Coast Council can get involved and work with the management to somehow modify the situation so the market can continue with character and fun, but with the ability for patrons and stallholders to better meet health guidelines for distancing and hygiene.
Again, I am sending this reluctantly, out of a sense of community. I look forward to the time when I can deal out hugs at will – but now is not that time.