Covid caution was thrown to the wind, as thousands flocked Chandni Chowk market on Monday ahead of Holi festivities, disregarding all social distancing norms and triggering fears of another outbreak of the virus in the city.
A spot check by HT at the popular market in Old Delhi on Monday, found a majority of shoppers not wearing masks or wearing one improperly. Rampant violations of social distancing norms was also visible with the market being absolutely chock-a-block and no thermal screening happening at any of the entry points of the shopping hub, which is surrounded by congested residential neighbourhoods of Chandni Mahal, Ballimaran and Dariba Kalan, making it vulnerable to a “super-spreading” event.
There were no announcements being made to caution people about Covid appropriate behaviour or asking them to follow social distancing norms and wear masks.
There were only two civil defence volunteers deployed near Fountain Chowk, who were seen telling people to wear masks but their efforts clearly fell on mostly deaf ears.
“We cannot challan everyone because of the excessive crowd. We can only advice them to wear masks and maintain a distance of two metres. However, maintaining social distancing in such a busy and crowded market is almost impossible,” one the civil defence volunteers said, requesting anonymity.
Chandni Chowk is one of the busiest markets in the city and is a popular shopping hub for wedding clothes, readymade garments, wholesale trade of medicines and is also dotted with a number of famous eating joints.. According to traders, on any normal day, the market witnesses a footfall of around two to three lakh people per day. Chandni Chowk
Priya Mishra (28), a shopper said, “Hassle-free shopping is a dream here. No social distancing is being followed anywhere. Since the wedding season is going to start, more people are thronging the market as this is a hub for wedding clothes. The authorities should at least make announcements to remind visitors about wearing masks and maintain necessary distance between themselves, while shopping.”
Unauthorised hawkers and cycle rickshaws on the stretch were seen occupying road space and had a rush of visitors around them.
Market associations in Chandni Chowk have issued directions to shopkeepers to not allow anyone without masks inside their shops and also to sanitise their hands before entering their establishments. Representatives of market association said they would write to the district administration to enhance vigil in the market area to ensure safety of shoppers as well as traders.
“The crowd has increased in the market because of Holi, but we have to be careful about the virus. So we have issued strict guidelines to shopkeepers stating no one without a mask be allowed inside shops and they should be thermal screened. In a day or two, we are going to write to the district magistrate about violations of Covid-19 in the market by shoppers and request an increase in vigil and deployment of more teams to strictly enforce social distancing norms,” Sanjay Bhargava, president Chandni Chowk Sarva Vyapar Mandal, said.
He also said that “unauthorised vendors” on streets and lanes in the busy market were adding to the virus spread scare.
Similar concerns were echoed by other traders of the market.
Puneet Chadha, who owns a garment store in Chandni Chowk, said that the number of hawkers have increased because Holi is round the corner.
“We conduct thermal screening of every visitor and sanitise their hands at the entrance of our shops. But these rules are not being followed by roadside vendors. The authorities should ensure that they also follow Covid-19 guidelines,” Chadha said.
Similar chaotic situation prevailed at Bhagirath Place Market, which is a part of Chandni Chowk market and is known for wholesale business of medicines.
Ashish Grover, general secretary Delhi Drug Traders Association Bhagirath Place, said that along with authorities, the public should also act responsibly and adhere to Covid-19 appropriate behaviour. “We have distributed nearly 6,000 kits containing sanitisers, disinfectants, masks and gloves to traders in Chandni Chowk and instructed them to not allow anyone without masks including their own staff. People should not wait for authorities to issue challans to wear masks.They should understand the gravity of the situation and follow social distancing,” Grover said.
District administration authorities, however, said that all necessary steps were being taken to check spread of Covid-19 in the area.
Akriti Sagar, district magistrate (central) said that continuous monitoring was happening in the entire district, including the Chandni Chowk market. “Every day we are issuing 100-150 challans against violators. We have recently conducted meetings with market associations in Chandni Chowk and appealed them to ensure that their staff and shoppers follow Covid-19 appropriate behaviour,” Sagar said.
Dr GC Khilnani, chairman of the PSRI institute of Pulmonary, Critical care and Sleep medicine, said that that there was a definite surge in Delhi. He said that there is need to follow Covid-19 guidelines. “There has been an uptick in cases in the last 15-20 days. People should not be complacent,” he said.
Deputy commissioner of police (north) Anto Alphonse said, “Our teams are imposing fine on those found loitering without mask, spitting, or not adhering to government’s COVID safety protocols. We have also placed barricades to keep distance between the crowds visiting the market. Regular announcements are also being made asking people to wear masks at all times when they are out in public,” Alphonse said.
The DCP said they have also held meetings with market welfare associations to make sure that every shopkeeper ensures that the norms are also being followed by visitors to their shops. “Watch is being kept through CCTV footages and wherever overcrowding is noticed, staff I sent to disperse people,” he said.