ALL side entrances, except one, of the Air Itam Market in Penang were closed today for better crowd control.
Enforcement officers of the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) and police personnel were present at the market early this morning to close five side entrances either by pulling the shutters down or sealing it off with tapes.
A solider was also seen with the police team at the market today to help enforce the movement control order (MCO).
The MCO, ordered by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, took effect on March 18 and would end on March 31 to fight the coronavirus.
Air Itam assemblyman Joseph Ng Soon Siang said from today, market-goers are only allowed to enter via two main entrances at the front of the market and exit via only one point at the end of the market.
He said the crowd control measure was taken to avoid congestion inside the market and the spread of Covid-19.
“The MBPP and police will use their discretion to close or open the side entrances based on the situation,” Ng told reporters at the marketplace this morning.
“We don’t want to close every side entrance all the time because that will be bad for ventilation.
“But for today, we’ve no choice but to shut down all the side entrances, except for the one where people can go in and buy only bean sprout and bean curd.
“We have discussed with them (stall operators) and for now, this is the decision taken.
“Previously, the people could move in and out at nine entry and exit points.”
Ng expressed hopes that the Air Itam residents would get used to the two entry points and one exit point from today.
He added that many market-goers at the Air Itam Market are elderly folk, hence the authorities do not want them to get anxious over the new move.
The enforcement officers made sure the market-goers today practise social distancing of one metre apart from each other when they were queuing up to enter the market while a member of the Air Itam Village Community Development Council (MPKK) helped sanitise their hands.
“Surprisingly, I do not see a big crowd at the market today compared to yesterday. If the crowd is too big, the MBPP officers and police will control them and disperse them only if necessary.”
There are a total of 189 stalls inside the market, of which 135 are active. They sell a variety of items, such as vegetables, fruits, prawns, fish and poultry.
About 80 roadside stalls have been ordered to close in Air Itam since Saturday (March 21) by MBPP following complaints of overcrowding. Roadside stalls in three other areas – Jelutong, Perak Road and Bayan Baru – were also closed since Saturday.
Ng said there are two wet markets – the Air Itam Market and the Farlim Market – in the area which has a burgeoning population. Currently, there are 18,000 voters in Air Itam and over 35,000 voters in Paya Terubong.
“The two markets are not enough to cater to this sizeable population. With better planning, the MBPP will need to consider this matter for future projects,” said Ng.
Story by K.H.Ong
Pix by Alvie Cheng