'Tis the season to try new COVID-19 protocols at Halifax-area malls

·3 min read

Holiday shoppers have increased traffic inside the two major malls in Halifax Regional Municipality, and that has the management company that owns Mic Mac Mall expanding its hours and trying virtual line ups to control the crowds.

Christmas shoppers are already on the mind of Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health.

"Malls are going to have to figure out with increasing numbers of people, how they manage the flow of people to make sure that people outside of close household groups of no more than 10 are actually kept separate," Strang said in Friday's provincial briefing.

"It's their responsibility to figure out how they run their business or operation, but stick within the Public Health rules."

With the virtual lineup, shoppers will be able to book a time slot in advance for a particular store, avoiding long lines that fill up the mall aisles. A similar process is being used at theme parks.

In an email, a spokesperson for Mic Mac Mall didn't specify when the booking system would be up and running on its website.

"Visitors access the system using the QR codes posted at participating retailers to reserve available time slots, and also to receive text messaged updates on the progress of the virtual line up," the statement said.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

The mall is operated by Ivanhoe Cambridge. It runs shopping centres across the country, including Vaughan Mills in Ontario and Centre Eaton in Montreal.

The company announced Friday this new system will be used at all its shopping centres. A news release from the company said the idea is to minimize wait times to enable shoppers "to better plan the shopping time with the greatest regard for health and safety measures."

As of Nov. 23 — just days before Nov. 27's Black Friday sales — Mic Mac Mall in Dartmouth will also be ending its shortened COVID-19 shopping hours and returning to its usual operating times. The mall said that is to help spread out the expected increase in shoppers.

Mic Mac Mall said for those who don't want to go inside, most of the stores will be offering curbside pickup.

Strang said he's been working with provincial enforcement officers who will inspect the malls to make sure they're following the rules.

"We're going to be putting out some clear guidance in the next week or so around Christmas with more detail," he said.

Safety 'ultimately' up to shoppers

Halifax Shopping Centre declined to comment on its own plans to control growing crowds and pointed to its current COVID–19 safety measures on the website when asked if it would make changes.

It has already extended its hours to space out crowds and the website says it is encouraging stores to extend their Black Friday sales to avoid a rush.

The general manager of Sunnyside Mall in Bedford said she does not expect the mall volume to exceed Public Health rules, but if security flags it as an issue, the mall has a plan to control traffic at the entrances.

Strang said as the holidays near, the responsibility to control crowds won't just fall on the malls.

"Ultimately this is the responsibility of Nova Scotians. If you're going into a mall, what are you doing to make sure that you're keeping physically distant?" he asked.

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