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Ill-managed easing poses covid spike threat

People line up without maintaining physical distance to buy alcohol outside liquor shops, which reopened Monday. (Photo: AP)Premium
People line up without maintaining physical distance to buy alcohol outside liquor shops, which reopened Monday. (Photo: AP)

  • Crowding at liquor shops could be prevented by making use of technology such as token systems on mobile phones
  • Public health experts caution that the violation of social distancing norms in the absence of restrictions may impact the trajectory of covid-19 cases

NEW DELHI : The government’s decision to allow liquor sales in green and orange zones as a step to open up businesses without ensuring adequate storefront management may defeat the idea of social distancing and trigger a surge in covid-19 cases in India, experts warned.

Soon after the Union home ministry relaxed the lockdown rules on Monday, and allowed standalone liquor, pan and gutka shops to reopen, consumers thronged the streets to stock up but paid little heed to social distancing norms.

Public health experts cautioned that the violation of social distancing norms in the absence of restrictions may impact the trajectory of covid-19 cases. “Opening up of alcohol sale and mismanagement have definitely buried social and physical distancing. We saw overcrowding in alcohol stores yesterday, which is sure to result in an increased community spread of the virus. I fear an explosion of new covid-19 cases in another two weeks," said Dr K. Rajkumar, consultant pulmonologist, Fortis Malar Hospital, Chennai.

To be sure it’s not liquor shops alone. Similar crowding has been seen on several recent occasions, including on 24 March when the announcement of the nationwide lockdown caused a similarly chaotic rush to stock up on essentials.

“There had been a spike in cases since that incident. With standalone shops having opened from yesterday (4 May), people have started overcrowding again," said Rajkumar, adding that the pandemic was far from over and that people must understand the gravity of the situation and behave accordingly.

States governments, too, have warned that people should be responsible and follow precautions to check the spread of the virus.

“Whether it’s alcohol or any other shop or business, compromising on either social distancing or wearing masks can have grave consequences. The lockdown has been conditionally modified, not lifted, it must be noted by all," said Rohit Kumar Singh, additional chief secretary, department of medical health and family welfare, government of Rajasthan.

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