Government order on total lockdown triggers panic buying in Tamil Nadu cities

Published : April 25, 2020 12:46 IST

In Chennai on April 25, people thronging a temporary market at the Corporation playground, Chinthadripet, ahead of the lockdown announced for four days. Photo: R. Ragu

The Tamil Nadu government’s ill-thought-out order on total lockdown in hotspots from April 26 trigged panic buying across the cities, with people throwing to the wind all caution on social distancing. Information coming in from these towns in Tamil Nadu confirmed that people were crowding shops and other establishments from early morning and resorting to panic buying.

Utter chaos ruled the main vegetable and fruit market in Koyambedu and in most other smaller markets across Chennai, including the southern and northern parts, even as a Central team is in Chennai to assess the situation.

Reacting to the mess, the Chennai Corporation, which did a poor job of anticipating the crowds that would surge, clarified on April 25 that vegetable shops could remain open during the complete lockdown. In yet another clarification, it said that groceries selling vegetables should not keep their shops open; instead, it should sell it on the platform and close their shops. As people still did not heed, the Chennai Corporation top brass panicked again and announced that the shops would be open until 3 p.m. on April 25.

The Tamil Nadu government had announced on April 24 that “a complete lockdown will be implemented in the Corporation limits of Chennai, Coimbatore and Madurai from April 26, 6 a.m. to April 29, 9 p.m. Complete lockdown will also be implemented in Corporation limits of Salem and Tiruppur from April 26, 6 a.m. to April 28, 9 p.m”. This step was taken because “medical and public health experts…have observed that the spread of COVID-19 could be brought under control only if the lockdown is further intensified in urban areas,” it said.

Ironically, it is this sentence in the government order (G.O. (Ms) No.207 dated April 24 from the Revenue and Disaster Management Department) that was remarkable: “Though the spread of the Corona Virus (Covid-19) has come under control in rural areas, there are possible chances for more spread of Corona Virus in the urban pockets particularly in areas where people gather in large number and hence there is an increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in Corporations like Chennai, Coimbatore and Madurai.”

The government, to this date, has not explained what data it relied on to make the claim that the spread of COVID-19 was “under control” in rural areas. If the aim of the lockdown from April 26 was to ensure that the virus did not spread in Chennai and other urban areas, it has achieved just the opposite, with people from the three cities getting out of home very early in the morning to buy and stock up.

Adding to the panic and confusion, the Chennai Police decided to close down the arterial Anna Salai and many other roads, leading to much more traffic on the roads. Instances of people forced to go round and round to reach their destinations abound. The police have defended this move by saying that too many people were on the roads and this move will curtail movement. As visible on April 25, it did not curtail movement; people were forced to spend much longer on the roads then they otherwise would have.

Some people also asked why the police were resorting to locking down roads when strict action was being taken against those violating prohibitory orders. As on April 25, the police have filed an un-prosecutable three lakh plus first information reports (FIRs) on 2.94 lakh cases of lockdown violation in Tamil Nadu. As many as 2.65 lakh vehicles were seized and a fine of Rs.3.14 crore collected from the people.

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