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India lockdown: As Goa allows grocery stores to open, buyers panic, stocks run dry

With the government finally relenting to allow essential stores to function, several people flocked to the stores to stock up groceries.

By: Express News Service | Panjim |
March 27, 2020 11:05:34 pm
Goa coronavirus, Goa coronavirus lockdown, Goa coronavirus grocery shops, coronavirus, COVID-19, Pramod Sawant, coronavirus lockdown, indian express An empty Goa street during the lockdown (Express Photo: Smita Nair)

Eggs were selling for Rs 84 a dozen in Panjim, and vegetable and fish stocks ran dry by 9 am at villages — with desperate Goans flocking to grocery shops for rice and bread, after a long five day lockdown.

With no clarity on the next administrative move, and having not had the opportunity to stock up their kitchens, the visuals that played on the streets were not reassuring.

Parallel to this, a set of videos and open letters emerged through the early hours — with medical practitioners calling the dilution of lockdown a “gateway for the virus to spread” and a wrong decision taken by the government. For the Goa’s health machinery, the next eight days now remain the toughest and the most crucial, say health professionals.

Both these narratives played at the High Court of Bombay in Goa which was hearing a bunch of petitions, taking note of the frantic morning and a helpless government that acted in duress.

Justice Mahesh Sonak asked for a “robust system” to be placed saying people are not in the interest of defying curfew but expect their government to provide them with essentials in a well thought and organised manner.

“Even the directives of the National Disaster Management Authority and the Government of India propose encouragement to home deliveries. The State Government and its agencies must be proactive in encouraging and facilitating home deliveries of essentials, so that, there is no need to visit grocery shops during the period of lock-down,” Sonak said, adding, “the decision to permit grocery shops to remain open, should not be construed as dilution of the earlier resolve to put a system of home deliveries of essentials in place, so that there is no necessity for people to access grocery shops personally and thereby dilute the lockout.”

Sonak also came down heavily on the government’s decisions taken in the last five days, saying the importance of social distancing can never be compromised, as his order reads, “The clamour of seeming majorities or those that clamour the loudest, may not necessarily correspond to true public interest. The true public interest must be guided by scientific and medical opinion keeping in mind that the priority is to halt the spread of the virus and the pandemic. Though, supply of essentials is vital, the same cannot be at the cost of subordinating the main purpose of the lock-down i.e.halting the spread of the virus and the pandemic,” the order states.

With the government finally relenting to allow essential stores to function, several people flocked to the stores to stock up groceries.

“I have old parents at home, and line of neighbours who are senior citizens. I took a list of purchases to stock for the next lockdown period — and reached Bastora junction early at 6 only to find everything was finished. Then a round at Aldonha and Mapusa too didn’t yield anything. When I reached the grocery stores – the queue at 7 am was so long and unorganised that I felt it best to return empty as I did not want to catch any infection if any in the crowd had it. I stood at a distance and returned home,” said Engelbert D’Mello, 43, a Bastora native who says he only stepped out when no home delivery numbers worked – many of them were initially shared across social media.

With 3 having tested positive, and another 1500 in home quarantine, doctors say they now await the aftermath of Friday, with the Covid-19 test kits and trained staff arriving for sample testing.

Goa now has a 100-bedded facility with the government having ordered 70 more ventilators to make it 100 ventilators for public hospitals. 24 private hospitals have also kept a section of their hospitals ready with 40 ventilators between them — with the state health machinery stopping OPDs for the first time in history.

“We are now starting afresh. People have mingled and the fruits of the last five days lockdown now means nothing,” said Dr Shekar Shelkar, former president of IMA, and now running the COVID-19 programme in Manipal Hospital. Shelkar’s video urging people to take precautions, stay at home was the first to run in the morning with an open appeal urging people not to increase the numbers.

“The next eight days are very very crucial. One of the patient who tested positive came to Goa on March 18, and we had taken March 28-29 as the first cycle, based on our reading of the reports from across other states and countries on the manner in which the virus acted. We were also looking at an earlier deadline of March 31, based on that,” added Shelkar. “Now with Friday’s crowding we are back to square one. We will now have to wait and watch.”

At Manipal – Shelkar added the doctors were being prepared both mentally and physically for any outcome. For now, with the hospital gates closed for other patients, the teams were being motivated through several sessions of group discussions, music and dance, as they wait for their first set of COVID patients once ESI and state government calls for them. “The biggest concern we have is for personnel protection equipments, and masks and facilities for the health workers and doctors who will be the first responders.”

Dr. Samuel Arawattigi, the current Goa IMA president, who also made a video appeal to Goans not to step out, said the biggest hurdle to the Goan health system is the lack of masks and sanitisers. He was at INS Hansa Naval base to receive the 60,000 face masks that the Indian Navy’s Ilyushin 38SD (IL-38), a long range maritime reconnaissance aircraft ferried for the frontline health staff.

“A shipment of 60,000 face masks ordered by Indian Medical Association, Goa to offset the shortfall in Goa was stuck at Delhi as trucks could not proceed further in the current situation of lockdown,” the Indian Navy said in its statement issued on Friday.

According to Dr Arawattigi, the next few days are going to be tough for the 1,400 practitioners and the strong nursing staff, who wait to see the outcome of crowding.

AT GMC meanwhile, Goans came in few numbers heeding to the Chief Minister and Health Minister’s call to get themselves checked if they had a travel history and are experiencing any symptoms. According to sources at GMC, one of the three COVID 19 patient tested negative twice — before testing positive, making the entire machinery wonder on the nature of the virus.

While initially they were only asking those with severe symptoms to be quarantined, the test results also modified their response to the emergency. Another patient, meanwhile, continues to be “fit to play football” according to Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, which also provides interesting insights.

The biggest worry according to teams working under Covid-19 programme in Goa is the number of tourists who came to Goa between March 8 and March 18 — when flights and roads were yet to be sealed. With Friday’s open crowd and mingling, their biggest worry is if asymptomatic patients might have mingled in the crowd putting a larger crowd at risk, burdening the state’s health infrastructure.

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