Mumbai hits panic button, comes out to shop after PM’s speech

High-strung: An argument breaks out in the middle of a queue for groceries in Charkop on Tuesday.

High-strung: An argument breaks out in the middle of a queue for groceries in Charkop on Tuesday.   | Photo Credit: Aadesh Choudhari

Social distancing not maintained as people queue up for vegetables, groceries

The Prime Minister said ‘lockdown’, and Mumbaikars came out in full force, masks on their faces, shopping bags in their hands. And for those few hours on Tuesday evening, social distancing was nowhere in sight.

In a panic reaction reminiscent of 2016, when demonetisation was announced, hundreds of citizens poured out into Mumbai’s streets in the wake of Prime Minister Narendra Modi announcing a nationwide lockdown to combat the spread of COVID-19.

The PM, in an address to the country at 8 p.m., declared that India would be under lockdown for the next 21 days to fight the pandemic. With the State already under lockdown since Monday, most shops were shut and only those selling essential supplies were operational on Tuesday.

Even before Mr. Modi could finish his address, people rushed out of their homes to stock up on essentials like groceries and medicines.

Powai residents descended on the streets in their swanky cars and sports utility vehicles to buy whatever vegetables were available in Powai Vihar market.

“Barely a few minutes after the Prime Minister concluded his address, the road in our locality was flooded with headlights of cars searching for parking space in the narrow lane. The vegetable vendors, it appears, were expecting this kind of an announcement because late in the evening they started sorting the vegetables,” said Prakriti Sharan, a research scholar at School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, who is currently in Powai.

“It was saddening to see frail elderly women jostling with people in long queues in front of vegetable vendors. There was no social distancing and it was like all hell had broken loose,” Ms. Sharan said.

South Mumbai too saw residents rushing out to vegetable markets and grocery stores in Grant Road, Colaba and other areas, but most shops had run out of stock. Those that did have stock, saw some jostling and pushing. At one shop in Grant Road, a few people volunteered to ask everyone to be disciplined, queue up and maintain distance. Meat shops had run out of chicken and mutton by 9 p.m.

Large crowds were also seen at chemist shops. Assurances that these shops would be open through the lockdown did not seem to be working.

The civic-run market near Thane railway station observed a sudden surge of customers at around 8.30 p.m. with people buying vegetables to last them as long as possible. Shops had already run out of essentials like milk, bread and eggs by then.

“Some of my regular customers are calling to tell me to put aside five litres of milk but I don’t even have half a litre left. If this evening is hectic, tomorrow is going to be worse, as people will flock from the morning itself, when the fresh supply comes in,” a general store owner in the market said.

“I have people buying something like six to seven types of vegetables in the biggest bags they have, and making me promise to set aside some more while they return for a second trip. Doing business at a single place for years gets you a lot of regular customers and you can’t turn any of them down,” said Saiprasad Shirke, a vegetable vendor.

Similar scenes were witnessed in various pockets of Mira Road and Bhayander. Bakeries saw the maximum crowd as people rushed to stock bread, eggs and milk among other essentials. Police personnel stationed near Maxus Mall who were earlier stopping motorcycles and sending people back home could do nothing to stop people from crowding the streets to shop for essentials.

Long queues were noticed at grocery stores in Navi Mumbai, with cars parked all around. These places were almost empty for the past few days with a handful coming through the day to buy supplies. A similar scene was observed in medical stores.

Vegetable and milk sellers confirmed that supply was on till Tuesday morning but said they are unsure about Wednesday, despite the State government assuring essential supply. Everyone, including the wholesalers, is still ascertaining exactly what the lockdown entails.

Believing that the 21-day lockdown would also mean a dearth of cash, people rushed to ATMs to withdraw money.

“My mother panicked so much that she forced me to the ATM thinking we won’t be able to withdraw money in next 21 days,” said Anant Joshi, a Belapur resident.

Citizens were seen taking to Twitter, tagging the Mumbai police in tweets about crowds in their localities. The police issued advisories asking people not to panic and also increased deployment on the roads to avoid untoward incidents.

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Printable version | Apr 4, 2020 11:37:51 AM |

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