New Delhi: The recent surge in Covid cases has not proved a dampener for pre-Diwali shopping in Delhi. Huge crowds can be seen flocking to the city’s markets with little or no regard for masks and social distancing norms.
While 4,001 new cases of coronavirus were recorded in the city Monday, Delhi reported more than 5,000 daily cases for five consecutive days from 28 October to 1 November. Government data revealed that more than 96,000 cases were added between 1 October and 29 October.
The pollution levels in Delhi have also worsened in the last few weeks, and health experts have warned that this, combined with the onset of winter, could aggravate the Covid situation since the infection attacks the respiratory system of the body. A recent study also noted that air pollution could be linked to 15 per cent of the world’s Covid deaths.
This, however, has not deterred Delhi’s Diwali shoppers. While the festival is almost two weeks away, Delhi’s popular market hubs Sarojini Nagar and Lajpat Nagar have seen crowds almost equal to pre-Covid times in the past few days.
No masks, social distancing or sanitisers
While the surge in cases remains a major concern for the authorities in Delhi, the increase in footfall has cheered shopkeepers in Sarojini Nagar and Lajpat Nagar, who suffered massive losses during the stringent nationwide lockdown imposed in March.
The discounts on several items is only adding to the crowd at shops in these two markets.
When ThePrint visited the markets, most people could be seen wearing masks but few wore them properly. Some did not cover noses, while others had the masks pulled down to the chin or neck — making them absolutely ineffective.
Some customers even removed their masks to talk to shopkeepers and bargain, with no regard for social distancing. Even the eateries at these two markets were packed.
“I do wear masks, but this one has become loose. I will wear a different mark tomorrow because I will incur a loss if I leave today,” said Mohan Lal, who sells bed-sheets in Sarojini Nagar. His mask was dangling from one ear.
In Lajpat Nagar Central Market, Sridhan, who sells winter clothes for children, said his handkerchief was “more effective and handier” than masks. However, even his handkerchief did not cover his mouth and nose properly.
There were also no traces of hand sanitisers at most shops, with only a few larger stores making customers sanitise their hands. Even shoppers didn’t bother to sanitise hands after touching items.
Nilesh Singh, who sells bangles at the Lajpat Nagar market, said, “It is not possible to spray sanitisers on every customer in an area where there is no place to even stand.”
Covid announcements ignored
While regular announcements were made at the two markets, asking customers and shoppers to maintain social distancing, use sanitisers and wear masks properly, they ultimately fell on deaf ears.
In Sarojini Nagar, a team of civil defence officials along with a New Delhi district authority-appointed representative roams the narrow lanes, trying to make people aware of the virus and the importance of following Covid-19 protocols.
The team plays drums as the members make announcements on the mic. They carry a green coronavirus toy called PC Mon, an acronym for ‘pollution and corona monster’. The district authority is also considering issuing challans to those flouting norms.
“The rush here has increased a lot due to Diwali. We are trying our best to make people aware and listen to us. Very soon we will start issuing challans to shopkeepers who are flouting the norms and not asking customers to stand in queue maintain social distancing,” said Raman Shikara, the New Delhi district-appointed representative.
“We didn’t carry PC Mon before but since people hardly pay attention to what we are saying, we carry it to draw attention,” Shikara added.
According to health experts, these crowds could invariably lead to a spike in cases in Delhi and the chance of ‘super-spread’ is also high in these areas.
“Contract-tracing is not going to be possible here. If you find one individual who has Covid, to find the secondary contacts of that individual will be difficult,” Dr D. Prabhakaran, director of Centre for Control of Chronic Conditions, Public Health Foundation of India, told ThePrint.
“The second wave has not completely disappeared. It started declining but has started increasing again. So we don’t know if we will see an extension of the second wave or a third wave. The fact is, because of pollution and winters, the chances of rise in cases are high. Winters are generally very conductive for spread of infections and Covid-19 is a viral infection affecting the respiratory system predominantly,” Prabhakaran added.