Rajat Sharma

Why people in cities of UP defied lockdown, went into panic buying mode

akb2910Fifteen days of patience during lockdown went up in smoke on Wednesday when rumours circulated on social media in several cities of Uttar Pradesh that the government has “sealed” 15 districts. Thousands of people flocked to shops and markets in Noida, Lucknow, Ghaziabad, Meerut, Rampur, Saharanpur, Kanpur, Unnao, Kannauj and other cities and went into panic buying mode, stocking up on vegetables and essential grocery items.

The local police had to announce that the 15 districts have not been sealed, but only 102 hotspots in these districts, where more than six cases of Coronavirus have been found, will be sealed. But, by then, people had already started flouting lockdown and social distancing norms. People did not bother to cross-check the veracity of the rumours, nor did they wait for the official announcement. They came out of their homes in large numbers and flocked the markets. Finally, in some cities, police had to close down the shops to discourage people from panic buying.

Twenty two out of the 102 hot spots are in Agra, 13 in Ghaziabad and 12 each in Noida and Lucknow. The state government knew that people would resort to panic buying once the sealing announcement was made. Senior state government officials repeated several times that only hot spots, and not the entire district will be sealed. People were told that areas other than hot spots in the district will not be sealed.

I am particularly worried about those thousands of people who came out of their homes, without masks and mixed among crowds to buy vegetables and groceries. This was a sure recipe for disaster. They put themselves, their family members at home and all other contacts at risk of getting the virus. This panic was created by rumours that were circulated on social media. People did not even wait to verify whether the rumours were correct or not.

Let me caution all of you that India is now on the verge of entering the danger zone of this pandemic. If we do not follow social distancing and lockdown norms, we will be witnessing a spate of deaths as was witnessed in developed countries like Italy, Spain and USA. In a short span of six days, the number of Coronavirus cases has doubled from 2,500 to more than 5,000 on Wednesday. There were 32 Covid-19 related deaths in the last 24 hours in India.

One should notice that most of the Coronavirus cases in UP were found to be related to Tablighi Jamaat.

Let me give a break-up: 38 out of 64 cases in Agra relate to Jamaat, 15 out of 35 cases in Meerut, 14 out of 23 in Ghaziabad, five out of eight in Bulandshahar, seven out of nine in Firozabad, seven out of eight in Kanpur, two out of 24 in Lucknow, all six cases in Maharajganj, all 14 cases in Saharanpur, all 17 cases in Shamli, all eight cases in Sitapur, and four out of nine cases relate to Jamaat in Varanasi. Imagine how the virus was spread by Jamaat in UP alone. The Coronavirus figures in most of the other states also reveal a similar trend.

In Delhi too, more than half of the total coronavirus cases relate to Tablighi Jamaat. Delhi government had to seal off 20 hot spots.

I want to again appeal to Maulana Saad, chief of Tablighi Jamaat, who is presently under self-quarantine, to either come out of hiding or issue a video appeal to all his followers to come out and contact the police. They have not committed any theft or robbery. Police is looking for them so that they can be medically tested and if required, put in quarantine or isolation ward. This is for their own benefit. If these followers remain in hiding, they will be harming the community and the nation.

I will also request Maulana Saad to issue another appeal asking his followers, presently under treatment or in quarantine, to behave with doctors and medical staff properly. They should not try to flee from quarantine centres because they will then be putting hundreds of others at risk.

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