Masks in Street Markets
– from Hellen Aziz, Mansoura, 05.06.2020

This photo was taken on 5th May 2020, during my field work in El Kafr street market in the city of Mansoura, in the Delta of Egypt, as a part of my thesis about the governance of the street markets in Egypt.

I went for interviews and it was not an easy experience during the COVID-19 pandemic—having to wear gloves and a mask. Yet the environment in the market seemed to be so normal, one barely noticed the different strategies announced by the government to avoid the outbreak of COVID-19 in Egypt. The photo shows the crowds in the market, of customers and street vendors. We do see one customer in the foreground however, who is wearing a mask.

The street markets are often considered crowded spaces that suffer from a shortage of infrastructure, such as access to clean water and toilets, which makes them so risky places for the spreading of COVID-19. It is still so important that they operate during the pandemic, as they provide affordable services and goods, especially for the low-income and local community. The prices in the street markets are less those than in the commercial shops. In addition, they represent the only source of income for the vendors to survive on as they operate on a daily basis. The vendors have two options: to work within these difficult conditions or to safely stay at home but lose their livelihoods.

Countries all over the world employ different strategies to avoid the spreading of the COVID-19 pandemic, one such is physical distancing—which is difficult to implement in the street markets as it depends on the available area. Border closures is another measure that significantly affects viability of the street market: the cross border trading can lead to the lack of products and raw materials. For example, in Ahmedabad in India, the farmers face a problem in transporting their goods to sell them in the markets because of closing the borders of villages or states. Further more, some countries use the semi-lockdown measures, which significantly limits the operation hours of the street markets, in others there is full closure as a part of a complete lockdown.

In Egypt the strategy employed has followed the semi-lockdown methodology, starting from 20th of March. The operation hours of any commercial store, or similar including the street markets, are limited to 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. on work days and they are to be fully closed on the weekend. This limited operation does not prevent crowds at the peak hours during the morning, so it is everyone’s individual responsibility to avoid the infection by wearing a mask and gloves.