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Shutters down or up?

While one section of society has been demanding that grocery stores remain open, another section believes that this will lead to an abject failure of the necessitation of the 21-day lockdown to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. NT BUZZ gets people’s views on this

NT BUZZ

We’ve been on lockdown mode since Sunday, March 22, when the centre called for a nationwide daylong Janata Curfew in the battle against COVID-19.

In the days leading to this, people began engaging in panic shopping, buying groceries and other essential commodities in boxes full. The government responded by assuring the citizens that there would be essentials at all times, and there was no need to buy in bulk.

Late evening on March 22 it was announced that the Curfew would be extended till March 25. People who had chosen to put their faith in the government and did not want to hoard unnecessarily were left in a lurch. While grocery stores did open for a short duration on March 23, and the government announcing that this would be the case on each of these three days, on March 24 morning it soon became apparent that all the stores would indeed remain shut right through. That same day, the government announced that from March 25 onwards, the state, along with the rest of the country would now enter a 21-day lockdown period.

While at the central level a list went out on the services that would be exceptions under the lockdown mode, groceries being among them, in Goa however these remained shut. Angry demands soon began to be made to open the stores. Although doorstep delivery services began to be put into place in different areas, thus reducing the risk of people getting infected by the virus, complaints began to surface about the phone numbers provided being unreachable. Online services for ordering food were slow and flaky still.

On March 26 evening the government finally took the decision to open the stores on March 27, a decision met with various reactions. While one section expressed a sigh of relief, another section believed that doing so would make Goa a hotbed for the spread of the novel coronavirus through community transmission, especially given that cases had already been detected in Goa. They demanded that the government continue to keep the grocery stores shut.

Nonetheless, these stores opened on March 27 witnessing serpentine queues outside each store. While in some areas, people maintained an adequate distance from each other, following the chalk markings on the road, other places witnessed no such adherence to the rules; people thronged stores in huge groups.

NT BUZZ asked a few people what could be the next step forward to deal in such a
situation:

I personally believe a complete lockdown would be ideal only if we have a properly organised home-delivery system. This way, people will not feel helpless and they won’t find the need to panic and risk themselves and others by stepping out to procure food and medicine. If our government could somehow tie-up with more food delivery partners, like Swiggy and Zomato, things will flow smoothly. Something like what the Corporation of the City of Panaji (CCP) is doing. They’re of great help; especially for senior citizens, who shouldn’t have to step out in such circumstances.

Rochelle Fernandes,

assistant professor, Dona Paula

Although the percentage is small, there are people like me who live alone, don’t cook, or have a functional kitchen at home. Swiggy and Zomato made life comfortable for us. When the Sunday lockdown was announced, I was not prepared. Had I known that this was to be further extended, I would have figured out a way to get groceries and cook for the next few days. I just need one trip to do my shopping for three weeks. Since I don’t cook, I don’t have any stock lying around for my dog or myself. I understand the distancing issue, but if the government delivery systems, etc, work out, it would be great. If not, then I seriously am desperate for some food.

If the Prime Minister had intended to extend the lockdown, he would have had enough time to notify the grassroot-level political representation, and strategies like home deliveries, etc, should have been worked out before the 21-day lockdown was announced. It’s been three days, and now they are thinking of figuring out a way to deliver groceries. We also had enough references across the world to figure out how lockdowns are managed. We weren’t the first to initiate a lockdown. The political brass knows what happens during lockdowns and what are the logistical issues.

Although I appreciate the enforced social distancing, I will not do so at the cost of starvation. If push comes to shove, I will have to take the drastic step of choosing the three per cent chance of contracting the virus and it being fatal over the 100 per cent chance of me starving. Not a lot of people are pushed to make this choice and perhaps they don’t understand, but there are people like me scattered around Goa.

Buland Shukla,
architect, entrepreneur, musician, Panaji

It is a suicidal decision on the state government’s part to keep the grocery shops open. And blame the people for it? When has our learned Chief Minister ever taken petitions seriously? When there was pressure on him not to cut our trees, or relocate casinos, or not to have Zila Parishad (ZP) elections, what happened then? And now within hours of filing a petition, you’re giving in? It clearly means that he has failed to put a system in place to distribute groceries and other essentials. I understand that this needs time and a thought process. It also needs a chain of people and other things to see it working systematically. We were and still are ready to wait. But instead, he takes a suicidal decision to keep the grocery shops open. That too, at a time when the deadly virus is at our doorstep, with three confirmed cases. When the central government announced the Janata Curfew on March 22, the state government should have given the public one day, ie March 23, to stockpile the essentials and then should have announced then three-day curfew. Now, the only option is to have a door-to-door delivery system or an online service like CCP which is successfully running in Panaji.

Prasad Pankar, photographer, Mapusa

The people petitioning for shops to be shut are not considering a quarantine beyond a couple of weeks. Do they have supplies for a month? Two months? Six months like was just announced in the UK? The solution here isn’t a wartime curfew. It’s smart and organised planning. Shops can organise a token system so people can get an “appointment” to pick up the stuff they want to buy. That allows supplies to be restocked, to reach people, and to avoid crowds and long lines. Home deliveries should also be an option for the disabled, senior citizens, and those with young children. But that’s far more forethought than the Chief Minister has shown until now.

Shraddha Uchil,
content developer, Caranzalem

Before imposing a lockdown in the state, the government should have thoroughly thought about how they would distribute essential commodities to households. If a proper plan was put in place at the initial stages, there would be no need to withdraw the lockdown.

Brendon Fernandes,
event manager, Ribandar

Goa is a small state and the delivery of the essential items can be done through the help of panchayat or municipality members if not MLAs and it should be delivered home. Panch members also will know who are those who need it more urgently. The best option is to deliver the goods home. It will take more time, but people will get something to eat for 21 days.

Shriganesh Karande,
private service, Mangueshi

When even medically advanced countries are destroyed by COVID-19, the only possible way we can fight this monster is by the Janata Curfew and that is why it has been imposed in the entire country by our Prime Minister. But with shops being kept open, it will certainly invite the crowd and that makes curfew ineffective. Rather the government should have strengthened home delivery systems with the help of local leaders, social workers, volunteers, municipalities, panchayats, supermarkets, etc. By going to shops, people must understand that along with groceries we are buying coronavirus for free, endangering our own life as well as that of our loved ones.

Saish Gaitonde, Panaji

Keeping shops open is a very high-risk move, but should hopefully help in the long run. Frankly, I feel 21 days won’t be enough to hold back this pandemic. This is an opportunity for people to learn to be disciplined. The government should not wash its hands off completely either. There is still an opportunity to implement home deliveries. The moment we can trust that the government will take care of our essential needs, there will not be any reason for anyone to move out of their houses during a complete lockdown.

Daniel Furtado,
businessman, Chinchinim

The government should hold a complete lockdown, as it is the only way to break the chain of transmission along with isolation of infected individuals. Opening grocery stores not only contradicts the purpose of a lockdown but also risks leading us into an inevitable crisis. The government should carry out a well-managed door-to-door grocery delivery system with proper precautions, taking into consideration first the needs of daily wage workers and the poor who do not have rations or supplies for even a day. Goa being a small state risks easy transmission of this dangerous disease. Also, the state lacks adequate healthcare. The only solution we have is to stay at home and not take this issue lightheartedly.

Venkatesh Shenvi,
medical student, Porvorim

I feel the panchayats and other government bodies should sell essentials door-to-door using a truck or at least have an efficient delivery service in place. While the Panaji CCP has started this, they still can’t cope with demand and deliveries. They should rope in Zomato and Swiggy and use their infrastructure. In Mapusa, shop names and numbers were given out but the shops do not have the manpower for delivery.

L Fernandes, businessman, Pilerne

While the Chief Minister’s intent may have been good, the execution part, was always going to be a massive challenge. In many states, such stores are open 24×7 and are being managed efficiently. Why can’t they be managed similarly in Goa? In any case, since stores were closed for many days, there was an initial rush. This should subside. Things should return to normalcy and there is absolutely no need for another reversal again. The Chief Minister should simply ignore the advice from the affluent sections, who may not be aware of the concerns faced by the other sections of society.

Sandeep Heble, businessman, social
activist, sports administrator, Taleigao

(Compiled by Anna Fernandes,
Christine Machado, Danuska Da Gama and Ramandeep Kaur)

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