Essential medicines have gone out of stock in several shops across the city as more than half of Bagree Market and Mehta Building in Burrabazar, the wholesale medicine hub, are shut.
Traders attributed the shutdown to fear since the Calcutta Municipal Corporation has not fumigated the area for nearly a month even though four traders tested positive for Covid-19 and one of them died.
The shutdown has once again snapped the medicine supply chain that was limping back to normality after the initial days of the lockdown.
The wholesale medicine hub comprises around 550 shops and forms the main line of supply of drugs to around 7,000 retail outlets. Barely 40 per cent of the shops are open at present, some of them on alternate days.
Some wholesalers said the situation would only get worse with only a handful of big dealers operating out of the hubs while the rest would close down.
The traders said they have met health department officials, sent letters to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, to the police bosses at Lalbazar and Hare Street police station, requesting another round of sanitisation, but in vain.
“It was sometime in mid-April that the authorities had last sanitised the wholesale hub. Before that, the market was sanitised on April 7, within hours of us meeting chief minister Mamata Banerjee at Nabanna. We have spoken to everyone but no steps have been taken since,” said Chandresh B. Sanghvi, the secretary of Calcutta Wholesale Medicine Market Committee. “Almost all the traders are very afraid. Everyone has started thinking whether he would be the next positive case from this area.”
The average business at the wholesale medicine hub runs into Rs 25 to Rs 30 crore a day. Bagree Market alone would draw around 8,000 customers everyday and Mehta Building, another 6,000.
The footfall has halved because of the coronavirus outbreak. Business has dwindled and many traders said the impact could be worse if shops continued to remained closed.
“I have 12 employees and most of them are from the suburbs. I was still opening my shop, bringing in three of my staff in my car,” said a shop owner. “Now they are afraid to come and I have decided to keep my shop closed.”
Several retailers said business would take a severe beating if the wholesalers didn’t open shop.
“”If nearly 60 per cent of the shops in Bagree Market and Mehta Building continue to remain shut, its effect would felt on the retail chain,” said Sankha Roy Chowdhury, the president of the Bengal Chemists and Druggist Association. “The government must realise the gravity of the situation and sanitise the area immediately.”
Senior officials of the health department said the corporation has been asked to sanitise the shops in the wholesale hub. “Officials have said it will be done by next week,” a senior official of the directorate of drug control said.