With daily Covid-positive cases touching new highs for the past two weeks in the national Capital, Delhi Chief Minister (CM) Arvind Kejriwal on Tuesday said his government has sought permission from the Centre to modify guidelines to shut markets that may emerge as Covid-19 hotspots. Delhi government is also looking at reducing the number of people allowed at weddings to 50, from 200.
“We witnessed massive crowds at some of the popular markets of Delhi before Diwali. No social distancing was followed. Due to this, the number of Covid cases surged. In the last order passed by the Centre, it was noted that state government cannot impose any lockdowns without permission. We have requested the Centre to permit us to shut down marketplaces if necessary,” said Kejriwal at a media briefing, adding, “I believe such harsh measures won’t be required. But if a marketplace has become a Covid hotspot, we will have to impose a local lockdown in those areas as a precautionary measure. I have already sent this proposal to the Lieutenant-Governor (L-G) for approval.”
According to Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan, a proposal for locking down the Capital will be discussed by the Centre. “If any such restriction has to be imposed, a procedure has been laid down for it. If the Delhi Disaster Management Authority, chaired by the L-G, receives a proposal from the state government, it will discuss the matter there. If the Centre receives a proposal through the L-G, it will be taken up,” said Bhushan.
Meanwhile, Deputy CM Manish Sisodia on Tuesday told CNBC-TV18 that there is no plan for a lockdown or a ‘mini-lockdown’ in the Capital despite the growing number of Covid-positive cases.
“Delhi government has only asked for an exemption from the home ministry rules to reduce crowding at markets,” said Sisodia, adding that the government will look to curb crowds at markets subject to tests and positivity rates.
Sisodia’s statement comes a day after Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain said there is no chance of re-imposition of lockdown in the Capital, insisting that the third wave of Covid infections in the city had already peaked.
The change in Delhi government’s stance since Monday is not without rationale. Since mid-October, the number of Covid-positive cases in the Capital has grown from less than 3,000 a day to over 8,000 a day by mid-November. According to estimates, the average daily cases in Delhi is the highest, compared to any other national capital globally. In the past one week, Delhi has reported over 7,400 cases on average.
On Sunday, Home Minister Amit Shah instructed the addition of intensive care units in the Capital and increasing daily testing after taking stock of the situation.
Businesses fear shutdown
The sudden change in tack by the government has sent shockwaves through the trading community. The offline traders and smaller businesses bearing the brunt of a prolonged lockdown in the first quarter of the financial year, are now fearing further loss in business.
Apex traders body Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) has vehemently opposed the proposal of shutting down marketplaces in the Capital. It has urged the home minister and the Delhi L-G to take a call only after discussing with traders, given any such step without consultation could be counterproductive.
In a sharp attack on the Delhi government, CAIT General-Secretary Praveen Khandelwal said, “Such a proposal smacks of incompetence in handling the issue despite the CM and his men making tall claims.”
Traders argue that the loss in business and livelihoods since April has broken the back of the economy and localised lockdowns till September have further hampered the rate of recovery.
According to the latest survey by the Retailers Association of India (RAI), markets in North India continue to operate at 72 per cent of pre-Covid levels in October. While the situation has improved from the 81 per cent degrowth in the April-June period, the worsening situation is a major impediment.
“We are beginning to see green shoots of recovery, but we are yet to catch up with last year’s levels. Further improvement in business will depend upon how the pandemic plays out and how fast businesses recover,” said Kumar Rajagopalan, chief executive officer, RAI.
The fear of the pandemic hit traders hard even at the peak of the festive season. According to Bharat Ahuja, president, Delhi Electrical Traders Association, at Bhagirath Palace — one of the largest wholesale hubs for electrical and electronic components in Old Delhi — sales have improved since August but remained below 65 per cent, compared to last Diwali.
Ahuja said the inability of outstation traders to commute is a key factor behind this shortfall. “Most buyers we received this time were from nearby locations. Traders from Punjab, Haryana or central Uttar Pradesh, were largely absent.”
With inputs from Ruchika Chitravanshi