- Thousands flocked to vegetable shops and grocery stores this morning
- On Friday Tamil Nadu announced an "intense lockdown" in 5 cities
- Tamil Nadu is one of the states most affected by coronavirus outbreak
Vegetable shops and grocery stores in Tamil Nadu remained open till 3 pm, two hours beyond scheduled closing time, as per the orders of Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami after panic buying of essential goods was witnessed in major cities ahead of an "intense lockdown" starting 6 am Sunday.
Earlier thousands flocked to vegetable shops and grocery stores, desperate to stock up on groceries, vegetables and other basic goods, resulting in violations of social distancing rules in place during the coronavirus outbreak.
On Friday Tamil Nadu announced an "intense lockdown" for four days in state capital Chennai as well as Madurai and Coimbatore. Two smaller cities - Salem and Tirupur - will be shut for three days, the government said.
During this period all grocery shops and private establishments, which had earlier been allowed to function between 6 am and 1 pm, will be shut, the government directed, adding that only mobile vegetable outlets and home delivery of food from restaurants would be allowed.
Hospital pharmacies and medical shops will, however, be allowed to function, the government said.
Two disinfection drives will be carried out across containment zones in locked-down cities, the government added, noting that ATMs and state-run Amma canteens (providing food at subsidised rates) will also remain open.
The "intense lockdown" announced by the Tamil Nadu government comes in the middle of a nationwide lockdown ordered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month and extended last week to May 3. Under the nationwide restrictions, all shops and commercial establishments except those selling groceries, vegetables and medicines had been shut.
Since April 20, however, the centre has been slowly relaxing restrictions for some sectors and types of economic activities, in an effort to re-start the stuttering Indian economy.
Late Friday night the centre said shops in residential areas across the country - except those in the malls - could open from today, so long as they adhered to social distancing guidelines and use of gloves and face masks for shop owners and employees.
However, the centre has also said that relaxation of lockdown restrictions can be vetoed by individual states if the government felt it necessary to curb the spread of the virus.
#COVID19 update— Spokesperson, Ministry of Home Affairs (@PIBHomeAffairs) April 24, 2020
All registered shops regd under Shops & Establishment Act of respective States/ UTs, including shops in residential complexes, neighborhood & standalone shops exempted from #lockdown restrictions.
Prohibited: Shops in single & multi brand malls pic.twitter.com/NNz9abgWdA
The relaxations will not apply to areas that are COVID-19 hotspots or containment areas, with a large number of infections, the government cautioned.
At least two states - Delhi and Assam - have said they will not allow shops to be opened till assessing the situation. While Delhi will hold a review later today, Assam will assess the situation on Monday.
Tamil Nadu is one of the states most affected by the novel coronavirus outbreak that has infected over 24,000 across the country and killed 775 people. The southern state has reported over 1,755 cases and 22 deaths, so far.
State capital Chennai is the worst-hit city with 452 positive cases. Coimbatore has 141, Tirupur has 110, Madurai has 56 and Salem has 30.