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Under lockdown again, Bhagalpur caught between fear of disease, economic impact

Over the past month, the district has seen 541 cases, with more than 63 in the past 24 hours. The number of dead has gone up from 1 to 8.

Written by Dipankar Ghose | Bhagalpur | Updated: July 10, 2020 10:42:06 am
bihar coronavirus, coronavirus, bhagalpur, bihar lockdown, bhagalpur lockdown, bhagalpur corona cases, bihar covid deaths, nitish kumar, indian express Variety Chowk in Bhagalpur on Thursday. (Express photo by Dipankar Ghose)

Two men stand at Variety Chowk, an intersection in one of Bhagalpur’s most popular marketplaces. A little over a month after “Unlock-1” began, the shops’ shutters are down again. One man says the new lockdown by the district administration was “necessary”. “Sankraman tez ho raha hai,” one says. The other agrees, and adds, “But jo business bacha tha, vo bhi khatam ho jayega.” Again, there is agreement. In Bhagalpur, under lockdown again, every conversation now veers between fear of the disease, and fear of penury.

Bhagalpur, with an aspirational city and more than 1,500 villages around it that have the age-old issues of poor healthcare and education, is a microcosm of Bihar, and is the focus of a series by The Indian Express to understand the impact of Covid-19, the lockdown, and then the unlocking. But, with a rapidly rising Covid curve, the district’s urban areas were put under lockdown again for a week Thursday.

Read | Bihar: After NHRC, HC prod, work begins to bring mid-day meals to kids

Over the past month, the district has seen 541 cases, with more than 63 in the past 24 hours. The number of dead has gone up from 1 to 8.

Ramesh Singh has a grocery store at Variety Chowk, the shutters of which are down. Under the new guidelines, his shop is exempt from the lockdown and can be opened from 6 am to 10 am and 4 pm to 7 pm. “This means customers are much fewer. But it is essential that this happened. Over the past few weeks, the markets had become crowded again. People were acting like everything was normal,” he says.

Bhagalpur series| As a district unlocks

About 3 km away, at the Nagar Nigam Office, a truck of the fire department is spraying sanitiser. S N Verma, additional municipal commissioner, said the empty roads were being used for a thorough sanitisation on a “war footing”. “We have now deployed 5 trucks. All of these are from the fire department. We also have 51 hand-held sanitisation machines. Thirty of them have been pressed into service. The others had issues and will be fixed by the evening,” Verma says.

He turns to a junior colleague and says, “Check on those 21. Urgent hai. This lockdown, everything has to be efficient.”

More from Bhagalpur series| Tale of 4 health centres — Crowded rooms, staff and patients without masks, gloves

Back at Variety Chowk, Shrikant Kumar is a worried man. Kumar plies a cycle-rickshaw and makes about Rs 300 a day. Today, he has made only Rs 100 till the afternoon. “During the lockdown, I had to survive on the ration the government gave. Now again, the income is disappearing. Corona is scary, but will the poor be given help?,” he asks.

District Magistrate Pranav Kumar said the administration was ready for all eventualities. “There are arrangements for ration through PDS system and ration cards. But if there is need for more, we will reassess and give that. I assure you no residents will have any problems during this lockdown,” Kumar said.

Read| First Covid, now hunger, Bhagalpur migrants start packing — again

But some business owners are afraid of the long-term impact. A member of the management staff of a now shut city hotel said, “Anyway, we had few customers but it was increasing slightly. Now those who had booked have cancelled, and many left yesterday. Who will believe it will not shut again after July 16? Not releasing staff and cutting costs has become even harder now. Though this is complicated, is lockdown the only answer? Can’t the administration first enforce the mask rule?”

Despite boards put by the Bihar government everywhere, exhorting people to wear masks, most people in crowded places are not seen wearing them and those who do have it slung around their chins.

Read| In Bhagalpur silk hub, looms tell a story: ‘95% collapse’

On Wednesday, DM Kumar had said one of the reasons for the lockdown was the inability of residents to maintain social distance or to wear masks. On Thursday, assistant commissioner Verma said, “We have started imposing a 50- rupee fine and acted against several people on Wednesday.”

On Thursday though, while some shops opened, most establishments stayed shut. Compliance is driven not only by the administration, but also by fear. While Bhagalpur has had eight deaths so far, three happened in the last week. And officials said it was proving difficult to get them cremated. The families are afraid to take the bodies, government departments have been passing the buck, the Dom community is afraid of touching the bodies and residents near the cremation ground have raised concerns. Senior district officials have now involved the Red Cross to carry out cremations. An official said, “We are firming up plans for long-term solutions. This will not be the last such case.”

Lockdown in 8 more Bihar districts; 4 test positive at deputy cm’s office

Patna: As Bihar continues to see a worrying surge in Covid-19 cases, eight of its districts have announced either a partial or complete lockdown. This follows similar announcements by Patna and Bhagalpur, among the worst-hit districts in the state.

The districts which have now announced a lockdown are Purnea, Khagaria, Kishanganj, Nawada, Munger, Buxar, East Champaran and West Champaran.

Four staffers at Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi’s office tested positive on Thursday. A total of 74 employees have been tested. This comes after 50 staffers at the CM’s house tested positive.

Meanwhile, Jan Adhikar Party chief Rajesh Ranjan on Thursday said that he has been tested negative twice after a positive report. —ENS

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