India lockdown: Centre released guidelines that fair price shops will remain open
The world's largest shutdown began on Wednesday with concerns about essential supplies and services after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a three-week lockdown to fight the coronavirus. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in India went up to 606, including 10 deaths, according to the health ministry. "Forget about stepping out of your homes for the next 21 days," PM Modi said in a televised address to the nation on Tuesday. Health experts have warned of an explosion of infections if harsh steps are not taken.
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Amid a scramble for supplies, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal urged residents not to panic and said e-passes would be issued to vegetable-sellers and grocers among others to ensure essential supplies during the lockdown.
Safal, the fruits and vegetable brand of Mother Dairy, announced that all its outlets would be open. "Our stores' official timings are from 6 am - 2 pm and then 4 pm - 10 pm, in full capacity," said Safal Stores on their Twitter handle.
Moments after the PM's announcement, people in many states were seen rushing to the stores to stock up. People in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru were seen in images crowding around grocery stores. Many complained of soaring prices.
Shops shut down, fearing action by the police amid confusion over what can stay open. As states shut their borders, long queues of trucks carrying milk, fruits and vegetables crawled on the highway.
The home ministry put out rules asking states and Union Territories to keep a strict watch on rumours such as those claiming a shortage of food and other essential services and commodities.
The government also released guidelines that said fair price shops and those dealing with food, groceries, fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, fish, animal fodder would remain open.
Walmart Inc's Flipkart said it was resuming services that it had stopped and Amazon India's pantry service, which delivers groceries, said it was in talks with the government. Online retailers delivering essentials have alleged attacks from the police trying to enforce the lockdown.
In Uttar Pradesh, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said for essential commodities or medicines, people could call a helpline and also assured doorstep delivery. But many people complained that their calls were handled rudely.
Visuals from states like Gujarat and Tamil Nadu showed shops finding their own way of ensuring social distancing - by marking well-spaced circles for customers to stand in while they waited in queues.
While the lockdown is aimed at breaking the chain of transmission, shutting down a $2.9-trillion economy would cause widespread damage and especially hurt the poorest people, say experts. "The need of the hour is an economic package," said Madhura Swaminathan, head of the economic analysis unit of the Indian Statistical Institute in Bengaluru. "Asking people to stay at home is necessary, but that won't be enough for the majority of the population who cannot afford to sit at home without work and pay."