Chaotic scenes prevailed at markets and shops on Saturday in major cities in Tamil Nadu, including Chennai, Coimbatore and Madurai, as people scrambled to stock up on essentials ahead of the four-day “complete lockdown” beginning at 6 a.m on Sunday.
Physical distancing norms were compromised and the mandate of wearing masks ignored in the rush even as 66 more persons in the State, including 43 in Chennai, tested positive for COVID-19. With one more fatality, the death toll rose to 23 in the State. So far, 1,821 confirmed cases have been recorded.
With only a day to stock up and a 1 p.m. deadline for shops to close, the people in the three major cities thronged the shops from early in the morning.
The situation was equally bad in Tiruppur that will be shut for three days, but in Salem, another city where severe restrictions would be imposed till Tuesday, shops remained closed.
Facing a barrage of criticism from the Opposition that described the “complete lockdown” as an “ill-conceived idea”, Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami later allowed shops to remain open till 3 p.m.
The Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority and the Chennai Corporation added to the confusion by announcing that vegetable and fruit shops would remain open during the “complete lockdown”.
However, in the evening, Corporation Commissioner G. Prakash clarified that only sale of vegetables and fruits in wholesale markets, on push carts and mobile vehicles would be allowed, as announced by the government earlier.
Chaos at Koyambedu
All roads leading to the Koyambedu wholesale market in Chennai witnessed heavy traffic, with nearly 50,000 people visiting the complex within a couple of hours of its opening.
Saturday’s sales were 30%-40% higher than the usual, said S. Chandran of the Koyambedu Vegetable Wholesale Merchants Association.
“Normally, 20% of the daily arrivals would remain after the sales. But, on Saturday, most traders sold both the day’s arrivals and the previous day’s stocks,” he said.
In many parts of Chennai, anxious residents were either crowding or standing in long queues to buy groceries and vegetables.
Vijaykumar, a resident of Madipakkam, bought 15 sachets of milk, though the government has said there would be no restrictions sale of the essential commodity.
“My milk vendor said there will be no shop for the next four days. So I had to buy in bulk and stock,” Mr Vijaykumar said.
In Coimbatore, police and civic officials struggled to ensure distancing at the temporary vegetable markets. “The four-day lockdown will be of no use as people are thronging the shops today and are not maintaining distance,” said M. Vignesh Kumar, an IT employee.
In Salem, there was confusion as the Collector on Friday declared district-wide lockdown for the weekend though the Chief Minister had announced it for three days beginning Sunday. Markets and shops were closed.
In Madurai, too, most grocery shops saw long queues and crowding, particularly in temporary markets like those set up in Iyer Bungalow, Anna Nagar and Madura College. Police tried valiantly to ensure people wore masks. District Collector T.G. Vinay said 43 high-ranking officials were deployed in various parts of the 100 wards in Madurai district to monitor the situation.
(With inputs from Coimbatore and Madurai bureaus)
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