KOLKATA: With the shopping frenzy reaching its peak on the penultimate weekend before Durga Puja, social distancing became the biggest casualty at the city’s shopping hubs on Saturday. Health experts are now extremely worried about a fresh spike in Covid-19 cases. The shopping spree, some senior officers said, was an indicator of what the size of pandal-hopping crowds would be during the Puja days.
At the shopping hubs, however, the worry of doctors and police was replaced by satisfied smiles of the traders. Shankar Ghosh of Style Boutique in Gariahat said, “In the last leg of Puja shopping, we have recovered almost 70% compared to last year. We have changed the range of dress materials to suit the affordability of middle-class customers hit hard by the economic recession.” Ghosh, whose 300sqft shop had customers jostling for space, added, “Everything depends on the Almighty. If I am to get infected, it will be even if I sit at home.”
Atif Rehman, who runs a small leather bag shop on Lindsay Street, said, “We were the worst hit by the pandemic. We did not even expect to sell leather bags when people were buying only food and essentials. I had zero business during Eid. But now things have started turning around. People are buying bags and belts. We are also offering big discounts, minimizing our profit margin.”
Cops on Saturday had a harrowing time managing traffic and controlling crowds. After 6pm, however, cops gave up when the crowd grew to an unmanageable size at New Market. “We deployed civic volunteers so people could be dispersed. But after a point, the crowd overshadowed them,” said an officer.
Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) on Saturday made an appeal to maintain social distancing and wear masks. KMC workers also distributed masks.
“But most people pulled their masks down while speaking. Some even took offence when we insisted they wear the mask properly while speaking. After a point, we stopped advising people fearing loss of customers,” said Sukamal Saha of Textile Mart at Hatibagan.
The shopping crowds have also left many Puja organizers jittery about managing visitors at pandals. Forum for Durgotsav secretary Saswata Basu, who is also a functionary of the Hatibagan Sarbajanin Durgotsav, said it is a scary situation in his neighbourhood every evening. “Covid is no longer a concern. There is defiance. Remember what happened to Kerala after Onam and Maharashtra after Ganesh Puja? Unless people behave sensibly, the situation here will be no different. If there is a case spike in the neighbourhood after Puja, it is we who will have to face the music from locals,” he said.