THE government has been struggling to enforce measures such as social distancing and stay-at-home order in its fight against COVID-19 since the disease broke out. But it appears to have largely failed in the job. Social distancing in kitchen markets has not been maintained. Public transports are running without bothering about the health safety guidelines. Hawkers and vendors are also running their trade in violations of the COVID-19 health safety guideline. A photograph that New Age published on Saturday shows a makeshift crowded roadside market, with vendors selling clothes while neither customers nor sellers wear mask or maintain social distancing. The photograph marks a glaring failure of the government in creating awareness of the ways COVID-19 transmits and the precautions that people should take to prevent infection. When the government allowed markets and shopping malls to reopen before Eid-ul-Fitr, it asked market owners, law enforcers and the local administration to ensure safety guidelines. But this does not seem to have been the case.
Roadside vendors talked about their economic hardship during the outbreak and blamed the government for deciding an unrealistic period to keep the markets open without considering customer behaviour. Authorities have allowed shopkeepers to keep open from 6:00am to 4:00pm while most people shop later in the day. City authorities, who have mostly ignored such issues, claim that most markets are closed in the absence of customers, but assure that they will conduct drives to monitor the violation of COVID-19 health safety guidelines. Alarmed at the prevailing situation, public health experts have asked the government to take informed steps. Many have questioned the government’s decision of keeping the shops open during the most active hours of the day while keeping everything closed at night. They have even questioned whether a conditional opening of markets was a logical decision when the number of infections increases with each passing day. For two weeks in a row since the middle of June, the number of infection a day remained more than 3,000. Low-income people such as vendors and hawkers will return to the road in breach of health safety guidelines unless the government ensures their food and economic security.
Physical distancing is a key strategy in combatting COVID-19. However, to ensure this single strategy, the government needs to have a multi-pronged plan that must include food and cash aid for vendors so they are not compelled to return to the road for survival. Sanitiser and other infrastructural supports must be provided to ensure that shop owners and vendors can maintain the required distancing. From creating access to COVID-19 testing facility to contact tracing to enforcing social isolation, the efforts have been lacklustre. It must treat the reality of an outbreak with the seriousness it demands.
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