The wholesale market for medicines and medical equipment in Old Delhi’s Bhagirath Palace will remain shut until June 4 to check the spread of Covid-19, after more than 10 shop owners and staff tested positive recently, announced the local drug traders’ association on Saturday.
As many as 572 shops dealing in pharmaceuticals, having around four to five staff each, are expected to remain shut, but would not be forced to do so, said Ashish Grover, the general secretary of the Delhi Drug Traders Association (DDTA).
The association emailed Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Saturday, seeking advice on how the market should function amid the rising cases, Grover said.
“We have faced problems in maintaining social distancing, which is why this has happened. The shops are small and in congested spaces. Since phase 4 of the lockdown, the footfall has also increased in the market,” Grover told The Indian Express.
The association is expecting the market to be provided with security personnel to help maintain social distancing and quell fears among shop owners.
“We are an essential service and should remain open, but there is some extent to that. Our staff is worried about being exposed to the virus and taking up the expense of treatment if they contract it. We will await the government’s advice on the market and cooperate with them,” Grover said.
In the email sent to Kejriwal on Saturday, Grover said things were running smoothly in the medicine market until non-essential shops around it were allowed to open again.
The shop owners are also facing a shortage of staff, with migrant labourers having left the capital, Delhi Metro services suspended, and movement of people across state borders restricted.
Krishan Gopal (60), the owner of SK Pharma store at the market, said, “Only one out of 10 staff members are able to come to the store. Some of them live in Haryana and cannot travel. There is also the problem of transport of medicines from godowns to the store, since those who worked as porters have left the city.”
Some shop owners are hoping that the closure of the market is extended beyond June 4.
Yogesh Tuteja (49), the owner of Hindustan Pharma store, said, “Social distancing is not possible here because the shops are in close proximity in congested spaces. Customers too are unwilling to listen despite us reminding them a number of times. The market should remain shut until the problem of social distancing is solved.”
DDTA’s Grover said the market mainly caters to medicinal demand outside of Delhi, with materials being supplied to Haryana, Punjab, Maharashtra and Gujarat. Delhi’s share of medical supply from the market is 10-15 per cent, Grover said, adding the impact of market’s closure on the city would not be extensive.
The business, however, has fallen by at least 50%, shop owners say, due to customers outside of Delhi unable to access the market and problems with transportation of medicines to other states. Grover said, “The transportation of essential goods such as medicines to other states is allowed, but vehicles normally don’t set off until they are filled to capacity.”
Around 12-14 people have tested positive in the market so far, most of them shop owners, Grover said.
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