written by P Anand
Queues outside supermarkets and vegetable vendors across the state were a common sight on Friday and Saturday, as people rushed to stock up groceries ahead of the announcement of the Janata Curfew on Sunday. Stores extended their business hours and staffers were seen checking the body temperatures of customers, sanitizing their hands and allowing them to enter in small batches.
While hypermarkets claimed to have adequate stock in case of an emergency-like situation, smaller stores faced a hard time meeting the demands of their customers. At a provision store near Tandalja area of Vadodara, where two persons have tested positive for coronavirus, four staffers were seen making lists of required items and helping customers crowded inside the small space.
“For the last two days, the number of customers has increased manifold. Our stock including dry and easy-to-cook items like Maggi, poha, theplas, biscuits and khakras have run out, as have grains. Earlier, only two of us would be present at the store at a time, but now there are four of us. We are also getting orders over the phone, but it is difficult to meet delivery demands. We have been contacting the agency from where we get our supplies, but they do not have adequate manpower to deliver, which is why we are facing a shortage,” said the store owner on account of anonymity.
64-year-old Shashank Jain who lives in the building above the hypermarket, said, “Even If I do not panic, there are ten others who will end up clearing all the stock. I live with my wife and my daughter and granddaughter are here as well. It is important that we stock up essentials. The picture will be clearer by Monday, but we do not want to take a chance.” Priyal Mehta (42), a housewife, said, “Stores are running out of items and with a spike in the number of cases, we want to stay indoors. I don’t know if there will be a lockdown, but I want to store enough items so that we don’t have venture out or contact anyone for the next seven days or so.”
A few kilometres away at a dairy parlour, people had queued up a little before the store’s opening time of 8 am. The milk cartons were empty in less than two hours. “Generally, we keep the shop open on Sundays, but we will be keeping it closed tomorrow. Our milk supply suffices till at least 5 pm; it never runs out the way it did today. Customers bought double the number of milk packets as they would otherwise on a routine basis. We have run out of milk powder, bread and butter…People who never preferred toned milk are ready to buy that, too,” the owner said. Meanwhile, RS Sodhi, the managing director of Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation, said that there is no need to panic as there is no shortage of milk.
Several people were found waiting for their turns to enter the D-Mart branches in Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad. This was owing to the stores’ rule of allowing a batch of only 25 customers at a time, through a token system, while the remaining waited outside sans any social distancing. According to the store managers, the system has been put in place “to minimize people’s interaction inside the store” in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We screen our customers and if anyone is found with critical body temperature, then we will not allow them inside the store…or ask for their doctor’s certificate. We are also screening our own staff.” said the branch manager of a D-Mart store in Gandhinagar. He added that no such case was recorded as of Saturday.
D-Mart stores have also increased their timings by three additional hours and will now be open from 8 am to 11 pm. While a store manager denied either a spike in its footfall or more buying of essential goods out of panic, a few customers were seen carrying rice and wheat flour bags and oil tins, which is unusual for a regular purchase.
One of the managers said, “We have enough stock of goods. Even we aren’t allowing bulk purchases by customers and are informing them to only buy to their necessities.”
A customer at D-Mart said, “We didn’t buy anything more to hoard, our basket contains regular quantities despite it being a month since our last visit.”
D-Mart managers added that they were carrying out deep cleaning of all frequently contacted surfaces such as trolleys, shopping baskets, cash counters, etc. and its staff was offering hand sanitizers to customers.
At a superstore in Prahladnagar in Ahmedabad, staff at the checkout counter wore masks and gloves. A fresh notice was put up to inform customers that the store would not be delivering 15 kg oil tins.
Osia Hypermart and Big Bazaar in Ahmedabad were also screening their customers’ body temperatures. The former has also increased its business hours and will stay open from 8 am to 11 pm. The managers added their respective stores’ footfall is normal.
An owner of a grocery store in Chandkheda in Ahmedabad said that people have begun making bulk purchases of rice, wheat, pulses and sanitisers for the last two days. “It began the day Prime Minister Modi went live, addressed the public and appealed for Janata Curfew on Sunday,” said the owner. “People have panicked…they are hoarding grocery items. I have already run out of oil and our pulses and stock is nearing its end,” he added.
Online grocery chain Big Basket, in its statement on the measures being taken to contain spread of COVID-19, has said that it is trying to make deliveries to customers as “contactless” as possible.
A local spokesperson of the chain whose warehouse is located in Vadodara, said, “We have been instructed to desanitize our warehouse on regular intervals. We are also checking the health of all our delivery executives before they step out to deliver orders. If they do not pass the thermal scanning test or appear to show symptoms of flu, we advise them to go home and rest for the day. We have also sensitised them about the importance of reporting their ill health in times of this pandemic.”
The spokesperson added that the company has issued sanitized envelopes to all delivery agents to collect the currency for orders that are “Cash on Delivery”. ” This is to avoid any contact with the currency notes that could be major carriers of the virus. We also have pre-sanitized card readers that have been locked in plastic to avoid contact with multiple users. The delivery agents will also wear gloves that are disposed of after each delivery. We are also asking our patrons to choose if they want the delivery executive to enter their homes or just deliver their order at the doorstep,” he said.
The online supermarket, however, is running low on stocks and has delivery dates scheduled as far ahead as one week. “We are out of stock on flours, pulses, dry dairy products and even vegetables and meat. It is because we have seen a surge in purchase, which is why the delivery dates have been extended. We are replenishing stocks as soon as possible, but the entire supply chain is affected. People are not preferring to visit a mall physically to avoid coming in contact with other shoppers, so we have a rush. We are also working on reduced delivery staff as per government notification.”
(With inputs from Parimal Dabhi in Ahmedabad and Aditi Raja in Vadodara)
(P Anand is an intern with this paper)
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