Panic, scramble for supplies on Day 1 of COVID-19 lockdown in India

By Iqbal Abhimanyu

New Delhi, Mar 25 (efe-epa).- Indians across cities and regions on Wednesday morning rushed out in panic to queue up outside grocery shops a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a three-week complete nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

Even though authorities have announced that basic supplies and essential services would remain operational and exempt from the strict quarantine measures, crowds gathered outside shops and supermarkets hours after Modi’s 8 pm televised address on Tuesday that created confusion due to his appeal to “forget going out for 21 days”.

“Crowding at shops will defeat the purpose of the lockdown. It is our responsibility to continue the supply of essential items like milk, vegetables, daily use items, water, and medicine. Don’t panic. The government is working to fulfill your needs,” Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted on Wednesday.

However, as states sealed their borders following government orders, trucks carrying supplies were stuck at many points while e-commerce firms struggled to complete orders for essentials as their delivery executives were blocked and services curtailed by police.

“We are not operational due to restrictions imposed by local authorities on the movement of goods in spite of clear guidelines provided by central authorities to enable essential services. We are working with the authorities to be back soon,” BigBasket, India’s biggest online retailer of groceries and vegetables, tweeted.

Other retailers like Grofers and Freshtohome also reported problems in supplying goods, while e-commerce giant Amazon’s pantry service – which delivers groceries – was not available in many cities and Walmart Inc’s Flipkart was forced to suspend all services, including the supply of essentials.

“We are working with the central government and local authorities, asking them to help us urgently with detailed on-ground operating procedures, to ensure delivery of priority goods,” Amazon India’s spokesperson Krishnaswami Balaji told EFE.

“We continue to prioritize the safety of our delivery associates and our teams at our sites with several precautionary measures,” he said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of migrants workers continued to be stuck in different cities as they tried to return home following the complete closure of passenger trains and buses, which was first announced during Sunday’s day-long “people’s curfew”.

Media reports showed groups of people trying to walk to their towns, even hundreds of kilometers away, from Delhi and other major cities as the most vulnerable section of the population has been hit hard by widespread job losses and lack of basic amenities.

On Tuesday, Modi had said the lockdown was “necessary to break the infection cycle of coronavirus” and “very critical for every citizen.”

“If we don’t observe the lockdown strictly for 21 days, our society will be pushed back 21 years.”

The prime minister said that his government was taking “all the steps to ensure essential commodities will be maintained” without clarifying how people would be able to buy essentials during the lockdown.

Hours after his announcement, India’s home ministry said in a statement that food shops, banks, gas stations, and other essential services would be exempted.

The government warned that violators of the lockdown could face up to a year in jail.

India had reported at least 562 cases of the disease and nine deaths as of Wednesday morning. EFE-EPA


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