SANTIAGO (Reuters) – The Chilean authorities shut down a mall in downtown Santiago on Monday morning after hundreds of people crowded into the precinct to buy merchandise to sell, just hours after a lockdown for the area was eased.
At least 300 people queued outside the Asia Pacific mall, which specializes in selling Chinese-made products, ahead of opening hours and rushed inside as private security guards attempted to dispense alcohol gel and take temperatures, in some cases resulting in physical clashes with shoppers.
The mall is situated in the capital’s Central Station, a low-income area popular with informal workers and migrants, where a strict lockdown over the past three months was eased on Monday morning.
Like many Latin nations, Chile has a large population of informal vendors who struggled after movement restrictions reduced their customer base.
The reopening of Central Station, along with the adjoining Central Santiago which hosts government offices and business headquarters, passed off largely uneventfully, albeit with larger concentrations of people in reopened shops and on public transport.
Around 12 of the Asia Pacific mall’s 70 shops reopened, according to the municipality.
Felipe Alessandri, the Santiago mayor, said some stores had offered “irresistible” sales that had attracted shoppers from across the capital’s province. He warned that short-term thinking would see the quarantine reinstated.
“There is now greater freedom, and more responsibility needed, but clearly human stupidity knows no bounds,” he told journalists outside the mall as the authorities arrived to close it down.
Isabel Zuniga, the owner of one of stores that reopened, said she had sought to implement an appointment booking system for customers on Facebook, but had been overwhelmed by crowds.
“It’s understandable because these people are street vendors who haven’t worked for three of four months,” she said. “They don’t get government support, and they are desperate to restore their businesses and feed their families.”
(Reporting by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)