Monday, 30th October 2017

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Rush to stock up essential items in Assam

Sonowal issued a public appeal for the 2nd day to adhere to the lockdown restrictions

By Pranjal Baruah in Guwahati
  • Published 25.03.20, 1:34 AM
  • Updated 25.03.20, 1:34 AM
  • 3 mins read
Security personnel patrol a street in Fancy Bazar on Tuesday after the lockdown came into effect. Picture by UB Photos

There was a run on the markets across Assam on Tuesday though the state government had made it clear that essential services will remain open, including grocery shops, LPG outlets, pharmacies and hospitals.

Chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal had to issue a public appeal for the second day to adhere to the lockdown restrictions for their safety.

Guwahati woke up busy like elsewhere in the state with a lockdown in mind from 6pm on Tuesday, with residents rushing to the markets to buy essentials.

The rush was not unfounded because the entire country was put under lockdown for 21 days from Tuesday midnight by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his address to the nation at 8pm.

Vegetable markets at Fancy Bazar, Beltola, Machkhowa, Bhangagarh and other localities were overcrowded with people buying potatoes, onions and other vegetables in bulk so the supplies can last at least for seven to 10 days.

“The government has asked us to stay inside and we are going to comply. However, we still need to get vegetables since only the grocery shops are open. Everyone is panicking and that’s triggering the mad rush,” said a shopper holding two bags full of vegetables and fruits.

There were long queues also at grocery shops, pharmacies and departmental stores. Though in some departmental stores customers were allowed to get in five or 10 at a time, in local grocery shops, the crowd was unprecedented. People were also ignoring social distancing norms advocated by the government.

“We need to get adequate supplies because you don’t know what will happen. Few states have already declared curfew but we will adhere to the restrictions. It is for our interest and safety,” said Pranjal Karmakar at Ulubari market, shopping for groceries.

At Doomdooma in Upper Assam’s Tinsukia district, Bhupesh Goswami, who was found purchasing medicines at a pharmacy, said: “My father suffers from cardiac problems and my mother has gastrointestinal ailment. They can’t live without regular medicines. So, I came to purchase medicines to last at least a month. I know that medical services have been excluded from lockdown yet there is an uncertainty whether all life-saving medicines will be available in coming days.”

Jatan Bhumij, who bought 10 litres of petrol in Doomdooma, said, “I live in a village, almost 60km from the district headquarters. My wife is pregnant. I want to be equipped to meet any emergency situation for medical help. We don’t know how long it will continue.”

Residents of tea garden areas in Upper Assam alleged that several grocery shops were charging exorbitant rates for essential items, taking advantage the situation.

Karmakar, Goswami and Bhumij’s hunch was not wrong after Modi announced the 21-day lockdown across the country.

However, the scene completely changed when the clock struck 6pm. With city police patrolling the streets announcing the restrictions and asking all to go home, people started moving home. But it still took an hour for the streets to clear. By 7.30pm, the city wore a deserted look, resembling the situation during the curfew imposed after violence during protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act in December last year.

The city by evening was in battle mode. Guwahati Municipal Corporation workers sprayed disinfectant on roads, while Gauhati Medical College and Hospital, according to its principal-cum-chief superintendent Dr R.K. Talukdar, was ready with 100 beds for coronavirus patients. “We are readying ourselves to face any eventuality. Our whole team is involved as we don’t know what to expect.”

GMCH and Regional Medical Research Centre at Lahowal in Dibrugarh district are the only two centres for advanced Covid-19 testing in Assam.

While urging the people to strictly maintain social distance, chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal also appealed to the public to dial the toll-free number (104) to contact the health department if they experience symptoms like fever and coughing.

Sonowal also released a video appeal in the evening to the masses to adhere to the lockdown restrictions. He was flanked by chief secretary Kumar Sanjay Krishna and director-general of police Bhaskarjyoti Mahanta. By 10.15pm, GS Road was completely deserted.

Commercial organisations said rice and wheat stocks may run out during the lockdown but the district administration can solve this problem by arranging distribution of rice from Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns and getting wheat stocks from the FCI and processing it in the mills.

Passengers screened

Transport department officials on Tuesday stopped 10 vehicles carrying more than 500 people from Tezpur and Morigaon to their homes in lower Assam’s Barpeta district and screened them using thermal scanners.

Barpeta district transport officer Himangshu Das, said: “We have restricted vehicles coming into the district and recently seized more than 20 commercial vehicles carrying people. Today, we received information that many cars and vehicles were coming with more people. Our teams intercepted the vehicles.”

“The passengers were coming from Tezpur, Guwahati, Lakhimpur to their native villages in Barpeta after the lockdown announcement. The joint director of health, Barpeta, sent a team and all the passengers were screened,” he added.

Panic has gripped residents in lower Assam ever since a bus carrying around 50 youths working in Kerala, travelled to Barpeta and Nalbari, two days back. The youths had hired the bus to return from the coronavirus-affected state.

In Nalbari, villagers summoned health officials for testing the youths.

Additional reporting by Manoj Kumar Ojha in Doomdooma, Mukesh Kumar Singh in Dhubri and Shajid Khan in Udalguri