Only some months ago, people would wear double masks when stepping out of homes. Whether they remembered their wallets or not, they would carry sanitiser bottles in their pockets and sprayed them not just on their hands but also on the door handles they would be touching and chairs they would be sitting on.
Not anymore. Despite the Covid count slightly rising recently in the twin townships compared to the rest of Bengal, residents have got lackadaisical. At 6.30pm on Tuesday evening, 28 visitors crossed the Tea Junction stall at City Centre over a two-minute period. Out of these only five wore masks properly. Two had masks on but they were covering their chins. So over 80 per cent of the visitors had thrown caution to wind and were roaming unprotected.
“Masks are not mandatory any more so we are taking it easy. They can get wet in the rain and are uncomfortable in the heat. I have a mask kept in my car at all times but why bother when malls and restaurants let us in without them,” said a man at the mall, when asked why he was missing one. Even the security guards checking cars at the entrance and sanitising visitors at the gate had their masks down to their chins.
Two years ago, a market staffer would sit at the entrance of BD Market, checking masks and body temperature and offering sanitiser
Proof of the pudding
Medicine shops across Salt Lake and New Town have observed a marked fall in the sale of Covid-related items.
“Surgical masks should be disposed of after a day but most people use them for about a week, till they tear. Even by such conservative estimates, they should be needing at least four masks a week now that they are going to schools, colleges and offices. But that’s not what sales figures say,” Indradeep Banerjee of DA Block’s Lake Medicine Centre shakes his head.
N95 masks — once all the rage and selling upwards of Rs 200 a piece — are now selling at Rs 50 a piece and barely has takers. But Samaresh Gayen of the Lifezest medicine shop next to New Town’s Snehodiya, recalls the time when people were pleading with them to accept advance payments and get them the masks. “In those days, the masks were selling at Rs 500 and we were still unable to meet the demand. Why, Rs 20,000 worth of our masks had even got stolen!” recalls Gayen.
Sales of face shields, thermal guns, pulse oxymeters, even vitamin C tablets have all plummeted. “Previously hospitals would buy PPE kits from us in bulk. Even that has reduced drastically. We used to frequently run out of hand washes and cloth sanitisers too but now no one cares about catching Covid. Save a few senior citizens, no customer walking into the store cares to wear masks either,” notes Arvind Kumar Singh of BF Block’s KR Lynch store.
Even designer masks, seen at City Centre, have dipped in sales
No designer mask either
Safety aside, even the trend of matching masks with one’s attire is on the wane. At City Centre’s Heritage Plus, Hemant Jain says no one asks for designer masks anymore. Same at Ariana, in the same mall. “We had started a huge collection of party-wear masks, with adjustable headbands to fit everyone. They did very well back then but now sales are down to 30 per cent,” says the salesperson.
Kartic Biswas of Wildcraft remembers the time when they would sell 200 masks a day. “Those were lockdown days when our outlet wasn’t even open. We would set up canopies on roadsides and sell them. But now barely anyone asks for masks. Sales were robust till February this year but since the Covid count is low now, no one wears masks anymore,” he says.
Sale of sanitisers has dipped just as much. Besides medicine shops, many other stores had jumped on to the bandwagon in the initial days of the pandemic and started selling Covid items. Needs, a variety store in Baisakhi, minted money selling sanitisers. “Our five litre sanitiser jars would sell 10 a day; now barely one or two software companies are buying these a month. Pocket sanitisers and masks are selling only when schools are on. People make faces when they see masks these days so we’ve removed them from the display. We only take them out if someone asks for them,” says Nitai Chandra Debnath of Needs.
New Variety Stores of AE Market has almost discontinued its line of Covid products. “Mist sprays, vegetable sanitisers, room and cutlery disinfectants… Two years ago we had to stock such items to stay afloat but now they are gathering dust. There’s no money in Covid items now,” says Prasenjit Pramanik, who has diversified his business into more profitable avenues.
Rajib Das had opened a Covid-specific store outside IA Market called Rimi Store. “But sales are now down to 10 per cent now of what they used to be.”
A maskless shopper and seller at an IA Market shop with a “no mask no sale” notice.Brinda Sarkar
People only come for the Rs 5 masks and that too, only when refused entry into banks or offices without them,” says Das. “Pocket sanitisers only have a market when schools are on. As for 5l bottles, from selling five to six a day we are down to selling two to three a month.”
The shops and restaurants spoken to claim they are still particular about masks and sanitisation but customers have been strolling in, flouting the norms.
CA Market used to have sanitiser stands at their entrance, “but we kept them away when visitors stopped using them. If the government tightens norms we can always bring them back,” says Arun Roy, secretary of CA Market Babsayee Samity. “We have also been asking people to keep masks on, over our public address system, but if we insist on the same, it leads to arguments so we have stopped.”
IA Market’s secretary Rishiraj Ghosh says they have been given printouts from the borough office saying “no mask, no sale”, but neither do customers follow them nor do shopkeepers enforce them.
BD Market had, for months, hired a man to sit at their entrance to check people’s temperatures on a thermal gun and spray sanitiser on their hands. “We were using up two or three 20l drums of sanitiser a month in those days and all of us traders were chipping in to bear the costs. But why bother now when even educated customers refuse to wear masks?” asks Gour Hari Pradhan, secretary of BD Market Traders' Association.
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