Social distancing goes for a toss at Delhi’s markets in festive season

Updated on Oct 29, 2020 04:51 AM IST

Thousands of people thronged Delhi’s prominent markets on Wednesday for festive shopping weeks ahead of Diwali, visibly compromising with social distancing norms at a time when Covid-19 cases are again on the rise.

A view of the crowded marketplace as people flout social distancing due to festive season, at Sadar Bazar, in New Delhi, India, on Wednesday.(Amal KS/HT PHOTO)
A view of the crowded marketplace as people flout social distancing due to festive season, at Sadar Bazar, in New Delhi, India, on Wednesday.(Amal KS/HT PHOTO)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByAbhishek Dey

A security guard with a face shield screened with a thermal scanner every visitor entering a popular saree shop at the Lajpat Nagar central market and limited the number of clients to 10 at any given point of time, diligently keeping count on a register.

Inside, a few people pulled their face masks down to their chin as they scanned through the shelves and negotiated over price. Outside, a crowd gathered as people waited for their turn to step inside.

On a narrow pavement outside, people jostled for space with those waiting outside a nearby footwear shop and curious buyers surrounding more than a dozen street vendors in the vicinity, , most of them selling garments.

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Around 10 feet away, a loudspeaker mounted on an elevated police post blared: “Prevent yourself from Covid-19. Always wear a mask and maintain social distance”.

Thousands of people thronged Delhi’s prominent markets on Wednesday for festive shopping weeks ahead of Diwali, visibly compromising with social distancing norms at a time when Covid-19 cases are again on the rise. Delhi on Wednesday reported 5,673 new cases — the maximum number in a single day so far since the first one was detected on March 2.

On Wednesday, HT visited markets such as Sadar Bazar, Sarojini Nagar, Lajpat Nagar and Karol Bagh and saw scores of people looking for items ranging from garments to blankets, toys to kitchen utensils till late evening.

“This year has been depressing. The festive season and buying gifts for loved ones are at least bringing us some joy. We are taking all necessary precautions,” said Geetanjali Sharma, a shopper at the Sarojini Nagar market.

Shadab Aarif, a shopper in Sadar Bazar, said: “It is more out of necessity. Winter is coming. We will need blankets and warm clothes. This is a good time to avail of discounts.”

PRECAUTIONS BY TRADERS

While most shop owners imposed a cap on the maximum number of visitors, depending on the size of their enterprise, the crowd outside – on the streets, pavements and interconnected maze of lanes – swelled unabated. Amid the jostling, most shoppers, however, maintained they were taking all precautions.

Traders expressed happiness that all economic restrictions related to the Covid-19 lockdown had been scrapped and business was recovering. But there is palpable anxiety over the risk in the light of potential transmission of the disease and the recent spike of cases in Delhi.

“We ensured scaled-up surveillance. Police are deployed to ensure social distancing. Traders are required to ensure maximum cooperation,” said Sanjay Bhargava, president of the Chandni Chowk Sarv Vyapar Mandal.

Devraj Baweja, general secretary of the confederation of Sadar Bazar traders’ association, said: “We urged the civic agencies to crack down on encroachment. Even if people try to ensure social distancing, there is hardly any space in the market for that. We requested the district administration to arrange an alternative parking site.Trader bodies are in talks over staggered hours in the festive season.”

“The massive festive crowd is a big challenge. People letting their guard down have added to the challenge. We are doing a massive awareness drive,” said Ajay Bajaj, advisor to the Karol Bagh traders’ federation.

Ashwani Marwah, general secretary of the traders’ association in Lajpat Nagar, said: “Other than ensuring that all norms such as sanitisation, wearing of masks and social distancing are followed, we deputed a team of 10 people to assist the police in crowd management.”

ADMINISTRATIVE INTERVENTION

Revenue minister Kailash Gahlot said the government has undertaken an intensive awareness campaign in the light of the festive season. “The objective is to bring a behavioural change among people to arrest the spread of the disease. I appeal to people to always wear face masks and maintain social distancing norms at all costs.”

In Delhi’s 11 revenue districts, special teams have been deployed at markets to help with the awareness campaigns and prosecute violators of guidelines.

“It is a two-pronged approach. The first is to bring a behavioural change by making people aware of the efficiency of masks and measures such as social distancing. The second aspect is penalising violators. Market areas are witnessing gatherings and they remain a key focus area,” said BM Mishra, district magistrate (South Delhi).

Neha Bansal, district magistrate (West Delhi), said all sub-divisional magistrates have been instructed to engage with market associations to ensure compliance of Covid-appropriate behaviour. “We are particularly targeting younger people, which comprise a large chunk of the market footfall during festive season, in our campaigns.”

From blocking access points to markets to distributing masks among people, the police too have taken a number of steps for crowd management.

“After meetings with market federations, the 800-metre Pahari Dheeraj Road between Rani Jhansi Road and Sadar Bazar Thana Road has been made one-way for vehicular movement till Diwali. All shopkeepers and staffers are barred from parking their vehicles outside shops. They have been asked to use designated parking lots,” deputy commissioner of police (north) Anto Alphonse said.

Similar arrangements have been made at the Chandni Chowk, Lahori Gate, and Kamla Nagar markets in north Delhi, Karol Bagh, Sarojini Nagar, Lajpat Nagar, and Gandhi Nagar markets as well, the police said.

“On the prosecution front, the police issue challans to people not wearing masks or maintaining social distance. The police distribute masks for free to people who are not able to afford them,” said Amit Sharma, deputy commissioner of police (Shahdara).

Deputy commissioner of police (Central) Sanjay Bhatia said: “Shopkeepers are supposed to ensure social distancing and the use of masks by their customers. We prosecute shopkeepers if violation of norms is found at their shops. But our prime aim remains on educating people and creating awareness about precautionary measures.”

(With inputs from Karn Pratap Singh)

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