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Despite Covid-19 Spike, Why Mumbai Markets are Swarmed With Shoppers, Have No Social Distancing

A look at South Mumbai’s landmark Crawford market area shows what the city is like on an average evening despite the daily spike in cases. Social distancing is next to impossible.

A look at South Mumbai’s landmark Crawford market area shows what the city is like on an average evening despite the daily spike in cases. Social distancing is next to impossible.

Maharashtra has been reporting the highest single day spike this year for the past three days in a row.

The COVID-19 scare is back to haunt Mumbai. On Friday, the city’s daily spike crossed the 1,500 mark for the first time since mid-October 2020. Each day is witnessing a new high and more than 1,700 new cases were reported on Saturday.

To put this in perspective, all through January, Mumbai was reporting 500 or lesser new cases each day. All through March, the city has been reporting more than 1,000 new cases each day.

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has repeatedly warned people to follow coronavirus protocols, if the city wants to avoid another lockdown.

Maharashtra is battling a resurgence in cases, with more than half of India’s total COVID-19 caseload. It has been reporting the highest single day spike this year for the past three days in a row. On Friday, over 15,000 new cases were reported in the state. A complete lockdown has been imposed in Nagpur, Aurangabad, Kalyan Dombivali districts.

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In Mumbai’s neighbouring Thane district, a lockdown has been declared in 16 hotspots until March 31 with only essential services to remain open. Curbs have also been tightened and night curfew has been imposed in Pune city which has been reporting the maximum cases in the state.

In such a scenario, there is a possibility of a partial lockdown in Mumbai. Uddhav Thackeray’s party has warned that unless people kept to the rules, more restrictions such as a statewide lockdown would be inevitable.

“No one wants a lockdown. But if people don’t follow norms, Restrictions could be imposed. Within the next few days, we will announce some restrictions on hotels and places where people are crowding,” Thackeray said.

This time around, majority of new cases in Mumbai are being reported in high rise buildings – more than 200 buildings in the city have been sealed. There are 30 active containment zones. New curbs could be imposed in crowded places such as markets, cinema halls, restaurants and wedding ceremonies. On the ground, the situation looks dire.

The buzzing Crawford Market area in South Mumbai gives us an indication of what the city is like despite the rise in COVID cases. The market is crowded with daily shoppers, with next to no social distancing being followed. People have come here from different parts of the city: youngsters, homemakers and even senior citizens are crowding this market.

A senior citizen couple were seen shopping for bags here. They’ve not been vaccinated but that didn’t stop them from risking exposure. “I know this place can be risky. We haven’t taken the vaccine yet and we are yet to take a decision on that. We are wearing a mask at all times,” said the 75-year-old Mumbai resident. When asked what brought them to Crawford Market during the evening rush, he said, “We have come here to buy bags as we are going out of station tomorrow.”

Pooja Patil, 32, is visibly concerned with the crowd. She came to this South Mumbai market all the way from Vashi in Navi Mumbai to scout for wedding wear for an upcoming wedding in her family. “I have come here from Vashi and I thought the market wouldn’t be very crowded as cases are rising. But I’m shocked that people have come here to shop even for their regular needs. It is my niece’s wedding so I had to come here out of sheer need,” she said.

At a time when the city is facing a threat of a severe COVID wave, Mumbaikars may be throwing caution to the wind. We met three homemakers who had come to Crawford Market from Ulhas Nagar with their toddlers; none of the kids were masked.

“We have come here but we are wearing a mask. There are two types of people in Mumbai now, those who are scared and those who aren’t. Those who fear Covid are not stepping out, but people like us who don’t fear are stepping out! Life has to move on, after all.” She was seen purchasing water bottles at a roadside stall.

The only saving grace is that masks are being worn as there are policemen and civic volunteers who are imposing a fine of Rs 200 on violators. Every Police Chowki has a set target of fines to be imposed on a single day. As a result, they are strictly enforcing COVID protocols. “We are always on the lookout of violators. Most people are caught wearing masks on their chin, they have to pay a fine. The market is very crowded and such a lapse increases the risk of infection. Besides, we all have a daily target of fines to fulfill,” said a civic volunteer.

The idea of another lockdown is unacceptable to both shoppers and shopkeepers alike. Forty-year-old Kamran puts the onus on people to follow the norms. “It’s time for people to take this seriously. Small businesses like ours and even the common man cannot afford another lockdown. In our shop, we don’t allow people without a mask. We have a sanitiser too. But despite doing our bit, if people don’t follow then we all will suffer,” he said.

Another shopkeeper says that night curfew and increase in restrictions on restaurants, weddings and markets is fine. But a complete lockdown would kill their business which has only now started limping back to normalcy. “Crawford market and other such popular places have struggled to revive business after last year’s lockdown. We urge the government to increase surveillance, impose fines on violators but please don’t put us through another lockdown,” he said.

It’s been a year since the world has been dealing with COVID-19. There is COVID fatigue that has settled in. Here in the maximum city, life had just slowly gotten back on track. Let’s hope we are able to contain it before life is halted once again by a lockdown. Time to mask up.

first published:March 14, 2021, 10:17 IST