NEW DELHI – Hundreds of people rushed to buy liquor on Monday, queuing up in large numbers and violating social distancing measures outside several stores across India as the government eased some curbs on the 41st day of a nationwide lockdown against the coronavirus.
As the restrictions entered in the third phase, the central government allowed some businesses to resume, but maintained restriction in areas based on risk potential of the disease outbreak.
Alcohol sale was allowed in certain regions, including in the capital, after several states pushed for it since excise duty on liquor is one of the top revenue sources for governments.
As soon as the day began, people started queuing up in snaking lines and jostling to buy their stocks, flouting social distancing norms in front of the shops even before they had opened.
Dozens of pictures and videos showing large crowds outside outlets in Delhi and other places across India went viral on social media, triggering a barrage of criticism against the move that has threatened to squander away the gains made in the last 40 days of the strict shutdown.
In the capital, police, wielding their batons, had to intervene to break up the crowds as shoppers pushed each other to buy liquor.
Sanjay Yadav, a south Delhi resident, went to a liquor store near his neighborhood, hoping he would be among the first to reach the store near the upscale Defense Colony only to see a crowd had already gathered.
“The store opens at 10:30 am. However, I was sure there would be a crowd today, so I left home at 8:00 am, reached the store at 8:30. You will not believe that people were already in a queue and they were violating social distancing measures,” Yadav told EFE.
He said police sent the would-be shoppers home and the store did not open at all.
“I understand corona is a serious issue, but we shouldn’t stop enjoying our life. I have full protection… mask and gloves. Corona cannot infect me.”
In Delhi, that has recorded over 4,500 coronavirus cases, many liquor stores were shut down again, as crowds grew larger.
“I feel that Delhi is among the places in India where much needs to be done to control the coronavirus situation. My personal view is that minimum relaxations should have been given by the Delhi government to curb the spread of the coronavirus,” Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Harsh Vardhan told reporters.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Sunday it was time for restrictions to be relaxed in the capital because the city residents had “learned to live with the coronavirus.”
The lockdown of India’s 1.3 billion people started first at midnight on March 25 and was later extended for about three weeks on April 14. The government last week announced the third phase of the shutdown until May 17.
However, this time it allowed “considerable relaxations” in lower-risk areas designated as green and orange zones under the new guidelines to fight the disease outbreak, which, according to Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker, has claimed nearly 1,400 lives and infected a close to 43,000 people.
The guidelines regulate activities for the next two weeks in the areas mapped into the red (hotspot), green, and orange zones based on risk profiling of districts.
Red zones comprise of places with major outbreaks while as green zones are the districts with zero confirmed cases so far or no confirmed case in the last 21 days. The districts that are neither red nor green are orange zones.
Certain nationwide restrictions remain. These include air, rail, and metro travels and inter-state movement of people by road. Schools, hotels, restaurants, bars, shopping malls, cinemas and places of worship will remain closed nationally.
Irrespective of the zones, the government allowed private offices to open at 33 percent capacity the new guidelines also let construction activities to resume if workers live on site.
Production and distribution of essential goods and IT hardware and e-commerce activities for essential goods were also allowed to resume. The new guidelines also allowed the movement of goods between states.
The red zones include the biggest and economically most important cities – New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, and Ahmedabad – that would continue under strict lockdown.
The government further relaxed certain restrictions in districts classified as green and orange zones.
In orange zones, apart from the activities allowed in red zones, the government allowed cabs with only two passengers.
In green zones, which are the places that have recorded no case in 21 days, all activities except those prohibited nationally are allowed. Buses in green zones have been allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity.