Indians race for supplies as coronavirus lockdown bites

Security personnel stand guard at a checkpoint during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the Covid-19 coronavirus in New Delhi on March 26 2020.
Security personnel stand guard at a checkpoint during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the Covid-19 coronavirus in New Delhi on March 26 2020.
Image: AFP/ JEWEL SAMAD

Anxious Indians raced for essentials on Wednesday as a 21-day lockdown across the nation of 1.3 billion people all but emptied normally traffic-choked roads.

Many shelves in the megacities of New Delhi and Mumbai were stripped bare of staples like lentils and rice as the world’s second most populous country lurched into a shutdown aimed at slowing the spread of the new coronavirus.

We are going to face major shortages in the days ahead. And at the same time prices are also going up — tomatoes have more than doubled in price

“It’s getting increasingly difficult to source produce,” Mumbai vegetable seller Rafiq Ansari, 35, said.

“We are going to face major shortages in the days ahead. And at the same time prices are also going up — tomatoes have more than doubled in price,” he said.

In the polluted capital New Delhi, some buses still operated — with drivers only allowing the holders of government passes to board — but police and paramilitaries were stopping private vehicles.

At one checkpoint near the India Gate monument, masked officers turned away some government officials in chauffeur-driven cars. “Outrageous,” one official was heard to shout through his car window.

In Ghaziabad, outside Delhi, many people said they were scared by the new measures, and complained the rules of the lockdown were not clear — a situation not helped by newspapers not being delivered in many places.

Some said they had been harassed by police when they went to buy medicine.

Under the order, announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday, people could face up to two years in jail and an unspecified financial penalty if they flout the rules.

As panic buying began to grip the country in the hours after his televised speech, Modi took to Twitter to try to calm fears of shortages.

“Essential commodities, medicines etc would be available. Centre and various state governments will work in close co-ordination to ensure this,” he said.

From the normally bustling restaurant area of Mumbai to the western city of Ahmadabad, streets normally thronged with smoke-belching traffic were almost silent.

Birdsong could be heard in many neighbourhoods, replacing the klaxons of buses and the endless beeping of motorised rickshaws that usually crowd some of the most densely packed places on Earth.

Even outside the cities the lockdown was biting, villagers in some rural areas had erected bamaboo barricades to prevent anyone coming or going.

But in among the frustration, there was support for Modi's move, which brings India into line with much of Europe, and large parts of the US.

A lockdown is “the only way the disease spread can be checked,” Dhirendra Kumar, a retired lawyer in the northern city of Lucknow said.

“We had better support this lockdown.”


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