Is Door Delivery Of Essential Goods In COVID-19 Containment Zones Working?

Does doorstep delivery of essential goods - arguably the biggest reason why people are forced to step out of homes and brave the COVID-19 virus - actually work on the ground yet?

Coronavirus: India is under a 21-day total lockdown imposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in March

New Delhi:

Police barricades and checks, locked colony gates, massive disinfection drives and doorstep delivery of essential goods - this is what daily life in the increasing numbers of novel coronavirus hotspots across the country looks like today.

But does the promise of doorstep delivery of essential goods, such as groceries, milk and vegetables - arguably the biggest reason why people are forced to leave the relative safety of their homes and brave infection by the highly contagious COVID-19 virus - actually work on the ground yet?

The simple answer is that the service levels are patchy.

In Delhi, for example, where there are 25 COVID-19 hotspots, 720 cases and 12 deaths, at this time, a fruit seller in Malviya Nagar, in the southern part of the city, had to turn back from his daily route after finding lanes sealed.

"I come here daily to refill stock in colony shops. But now everything is shut. I was not informed by any authorities about the ground situation. I came here and found the barricades, so now I am going back," Mohammad Asif told NDTV.

A similar story emerges from the cramped lanes of Sangam Vihar (also in south Delhi), where there is heavy police presence and dozens of municipal workers carry out disinfection drives. A police officer posted there told NDTV that officials were in the process of setting up doorstep delivery. For now, though, there is no clarity.

The situation is quite different in the eastern parts of the national capital. Residents have opened hotlines to vegetable vendors and grocery stores near their homes.

"Over 200 residents have my number. They give me the list over the phone and I hand over the goods to the guard at the gate, who then takes it inside," Laxman Kumar, who supplies people living in Vasundhara Enclave, explained to NDTV.

Residents do, however, have to walk down to the main gate and collect the vegetables and groceries from a designated area inside the compound.

In Noida authorities have announced that supplies of milk and groceries ordered online will be allowed. They have also circulated numbers of vegetable and fruit vendors, but residents say these numbers do not work.

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Perimeters of containment zones are decided based on factors like number of cases, population density

Meanwhile, in Mumbai, which has nearly 900 novel coronavirus cases, there are over 350 containment areas. The G South Ward, which includes prime areas like Prabhadevi and Worli is worst affected with 184 active cases.

In Worli Koliwada, which has a population of around 80,000, residents of every house are being screened. The area, which is represented in the Assembly by Shiv Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray, has so far screened 9,000.

"In the evening they allow us to get rations. From morning to evening it is completely shut. They do not allow anyone to go in or out. Police are posted here," Harishchandra Patil, a resident of the neighbourhood, said.

In other parts of the city - such as Bandra and Khar - roads are being blocked on a dialy basis, as and when new cases are detected. The latest is Hinduja Road, on which access to grocery stores has also been cut off.

Down south in Kerala's Kasargod, a district with seven containment zones, police have launched services on two dedicated WhatsApp numbers. Residents can call or message these numbers to have essential goods delivered.

Community kitchens are also being used to maintain supplies. The state has 259 active cases and has reported two deaths.

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A novel coronavirus containment zone in Hyderabad

In Tamil Nadu, where the number of confirmed cases is inching close to 900 and eight deaths have been recorded, the government has set up 500 mobile stores across the state to sell vegetables and fruits.

Containment zones have also been set up in Hyderabad, which has reported the maximum number of cases from Telangana (442 cases, seven deaths). Each zone has been barricaded at multiple places.

One of these zones is Mallepally Mosque, considered the local headquarters of Islamic sect Tablighi Jamaat, the organisation that defied health warnings to hold a religious event in Delhi last month and has been linked to over 1,445 cases across the country.

"Within this area, there are (a) lot of positive cases and also those under house quarantine. Those houses are completely sealed. Nothing goes in and nothing comes out. For those people, based on request or requirement, we will provide essentials, milk, medicines, water," Lokesh Kumar, the Municipal Commissioner, said.

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Almost a one kilometre radius in each of the containment zone now has restricted movement and access.

In Assam's Guwahati there is only one containment zone so far - a high rise apartment with a compound wall that is home to 150 families. The gates have been closed and drinking water, vegetables and groceries are left there to be collected by residents.

The administration in Rajasthan's Bhilwara, which was India's first hotspot, has taken to sending tempos loaded with rations and vegetables from fair-price shops and government co-operatives. Payment is accepted via either PayTM or cash.

A different system has been set up for the walled city of Jaipur. Specific shops have been opened in different sectors and they have been given passes. Residents can either call or WhatsApp them and essential goods are brought to them. Milk is delivered to the door as well, while vegetables are sold through carts and from e-rickshaws.

As governments at the centre and state battle to contain and defeat the novel coronavirus, it is unclear how long lockdowns and containment zones will be needed. But for as long as they are, it is a challenge to ensure residents are supplied with basic goods and services.