A very crowded High Street in San Fernando, as people hunted for bargains and made last minute purchases on Christmas Eve. (Image: KRISTIAN DE SILVA)
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COVID-19 protocols went out the window as hundreds, if not thousands, of people crowded main shopping centres in San Fernando hoping to get last-minute deals on Christmas Eve.

A throng of vendors arrived after dawn and set up tables on the sides of High Street, taking the police and store owners by surprise.

Venezuelan nationals were part of a bustle. At Lower High Street, two Warao families sat on the sidewalk begging for food and funds.

A young Venezuelan girl wearing a Santa’s hat and a burgundy suit danced for passers-by as they shopped for gifts.

Most of the stores were so filled that it was impossible to monitor temperature checks, sanitization or even mask-wearing. The majority of shoppers made quick purchases from street vendors, picking up floral arrangements, plants, jewellery, socks, underwear, electronic items at cheap prices.

As the rain fell, the vendors placed sheets of plastic over their goods.

President of the Greater San Fernando Chamber of Industry and Commerce Kiran Singh said he too was surprised at the influx of shoppers and vendors on the streets.

“An outrageous number of vendors came onto the streets, taking advantage of the leeway they got to vend. Legitimate businesspeople were disadvantaged and so too were the pedestrians who traversed the street. I was disappointed that they took advantage of it,” Singh said.

He also said shoppers had abandoned protocols.

“It is unfortunate with the excitement of Christmas shopping that some citizens would have forgotten about the protocols, and I really hope they do not face the consequences of that in two weeks,” Singh said.

He revealed that he had surveyed shopping at the various malls.

“I can safely say there has been a return to fresh air street shopping this year rather than mall shopping. Many people have expressed concerns about infections in enclosed areas and are opting to return to the streets and do fresh air shopping,” he added.

Singh said his Chamber will be working with Mayor Junia Regrello and monitoring city vending.

The San Fernando chamber president also said that even though sales had increased on Christmas Eve, they were nowhere near pre-pandemic levels.

He said many businesspeople were hoping for more increases in sales next week.

“Storeowners are making the ultimate sacrifice to open early and close later to maximize on sales for the season,” Singh added.

He advised shoppers and entrepreneurs to be responsible and not place themselves and their families at risk.