Cashier Dario Ebrahim described working in the city centre during the national lockdown as a fearful experience.
“When I heard the president announce that it was lockdown and that I was an essential worker, I thought it would be an interesting experience to find out how we will work under these conditions. I remember thinking ‘I must be very important because I get to help the nation feed their families on a daily basis’.”
The lockdown, put in place to curb the spread of coronavirus, was due to end next week.
On Monday April 19, there were 905 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Western Cape, and 17 deaths due to the virus. Nationally there were 3 300 positives cases and 58 deaths.
Dario, a CBD resident, works at a store in St George’s Mall. He first started working in retail late last year after months of struggling to get a job after a knee surgery.
“It wasn’t my preferred job but I was desperate. I had bills to pay and a family to look after, so I decided to give retail a try.”
Before the lockdown, Dario enjoyed meeting new and different personalities every day.
“I work with people who are like my family – my home away from home.”
However, when it was announced that Covid-19 had reached South Africa, he began to worry.
“I didn’t give the threat of the coronavirus much thought at first, because the first case was in another province, I was more worried about security. I work in the city centre, where robbery and pickpocketing is rife.”
After the lockdown was announced, Dario noticed that people were becoming more cautious, which was concerning.
“People were scared to touch one another. They treat the cashiers and essential workers as though they have the disease. But I understand the precautions people have to take.
“You learn that it’s not personal, and eventually we learned to work and live with the new normal”, he said.
The staff have protective plastic visors, sanitary wipes and
the shop has stocked up on sanitiser for staff and customers to use.
“I have a fear of catching this virus, so I sanitise after every customer. You don’t know who has the virus – customers or colleague – so I treat everyone as a possible Covid-19 case.”
The staff have to practise physical distancing, and they can no longer shake hands or hug.
There are also fewer staff working together. “Sometimes the store is dead quiet, as is the world outside.”
Dario said the city centre was a ghost town – eerie and scary, however, there are still homeless people begging on the streets, and potential criminals lurking around.
“Before the lockdown, I walked to work because I live in the city centre. When lockdown first started, I walked, but changed my route every day.
“One day, while I was walking in the main road, a distance away from where authorities had stopped me to ask for my permit, two men tried to rob me as I was walking passed the Castle of Good Hope.
“I refused to give my phone and the other items they demanded. Luckily two men in Pick * Pay uniform crossed the road and distracted the robbers. I ran to walk with the other essential workers as we were safer in a group.”
He said at the time, he did not see a security officer or a police officer in the quiet streets.
“I ask myself – did the government not think about the essential workers who need to get to work during this hard time? Transport was not provided to pick us up from home and take us to work, however there was transport from work to our homes which we had to pay for.”
When Dario is not working, he spends time indoors with his partner and his dogs, Aria and Cooper. “My dogs are my quarantine buddies. We watch movies, eat and sleep together, but I can see they are frustrated because they haven’t gone for a walk since the lockdown started. There isn’t much I can do but keep them busy with the toys I bought them.”