COVID-19 | As Maharashtra shuts malls to curb coronavirus spread, citizens resort to panic buying

Stocking up: A customer is seen filling a cart with everyday groceries and ready-to-eat food in an aisle at a Big Bazaar outlet in Worli on Sunday.   | Photo Credit: Emmanual Yogini

Supermarkets in the the city and two other metros — Delhi and Bengaluru — were witness to dense crowds over the weekend as several people resorted to panic buying in view of the rising cases of COVID-19.

Citizens were seen rushing to stock up on essential commodities as the State government shut down malls to prevent the spread of the infection. According to retailers, the blanket ban on opening of malls, without making any alternate provisions to ensure the daily supply of these goods has added to the public’s fears.

“There has to be a uniform order from one central authority. With multiple agencies issuing orders and even local police and vigilantes clamping bans, people are confused and resorting to panic buying. This has to stop,” Kumar Rajgopalan, CEO, Retailers Association of India (RAI), said. He said there was overcrowding at several supermarkets on account of panic buying.

Mr. Rajgopalan pointed out that this was the exact situation that had to be prevented. “At this time, overcrowding is dangerous. The government must ensure outlets dealing with daily use essential items need to remain open as usual and enough stock should be maintained to meet the demand,” he said, adding that all manufacturers of daily use items must maintain the supply chain.

Another factor that has contributed to the panic buying is the anxiety in people’s mind that if supermarkets remain closed, then the local kiranas will take advantage of the situation and hike their prices.

However, not all retail outlets will remain closed. Independent stores and those with separate access will be allowed to run while stores running inside malls will be shut. For example, the Big Bazaar outlet in Kandivali (East) remained open even as Growel’s 101 mall, to which it is attached, was shut as per government order. Large crowds were seen at D’Mart’s outlets in the western suburbs.

According to Big Bazaar executives, the panic buying is confined to the three affected metros and certain items only. “We have seen extra shopping in cities where there is more panic and that too is limited to some categories. Mostly staples like sugar, milk, ready to eat food or noodles, and even sanitizers are high in demand,” an official said.

However, company officials have ruled out any possibly of a run on the supermarkets. “There is no need to panic. There are enough supplies. The excess buying is confined to some pockets and the entire nation is not affected,” an executive said. “Panic buying is happening but not everywhere. Operations in the rest of the country are running smoothly,” he said.

In a tweet to the PM, the RAI said, “ Some local authorities, especially in Maharashtra and Karnataka have started acting suomoto to shut shops, restricting citizens’ access to items of daily needs. (sic)”

“@PMOindia urgent intervention is required to ensure supermarkets and kiranas be allowed to serve daily needs of consumers like food and groceries during these trying times. We need to assure daily needs supply to citizens. @CMOMaharashtra @cmo @Govt_Karnataka, (sic)” it tweeted.

Meanwhile, household grocery items like rice, wholewheat/multigrain flour, tertrapack milk, mosquito repellent refills and even bathing soaps have run out across major e-retail stores in the city. Goregaon resident Falguni Shah was among those who reluctantly stepped out of their houses to visit a supermarket.

“I visited a supermarket in a popular mall in Malad on Saturday evening. It was clear that people there were were serious about stocking up. It seemed to be an attempt to irresponsibly hoard. There was not one soul in the under 10 items queue. I would have preferred to refrain from stepping out into a crowded store, but with my grocery requirements being unavailable online, there was no option left,” Ms. Shah, whose employer has in fact allowed staff to work from home, said.

Though major e-retailers said that only packets of a certain weight were available, the supermarkets were better stocked. “They however did not have hand sanitizers,” Ms. Shah said.

(With inputs from Aditya Anand)

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Printable version | Sep 26, 2021 12:59:56 AM |

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