It was just like any other Sunday as people thronged popular market places across the city to buy meat, fish and vegetables

It was just like any another Sunday across markets in Madurai. Be it the vegetable market on East Marret Street, meat-and-fish market in Nelpettai, Goripalayam and K. Pudur, there was a huge rush of people everywhere.

S. Thirunavakarasu, a milk seller at Nelpettai market, said about 10,000 people used to visit it on a Sunday. “After the lockdown, many people did not buy meat. But this Sunday, right from early morning, people rushed in and bought fish, meat and vegetables,” he said. Police did try to disperse the crowd but could not, as the people in a buying spree were in no mood to listen. But the market was shut down by 9.30 a.m., he said.

M. Mohammed Najmudeen of Nelpettai said people mostly bought mutton and expensive fish. Because of bird flu in Kerala, not many bought chicken.

“The problem with the opening of meat shops is that the meat has to be weighed and chopped. This takes time and leads to crowding,” he said. The process of smoking the legs and the head of the goat also takes up space and so makes the area cramped.

K. Parveen, a resident, said the shopkeepers got rid of the mutton and fish waste on the street. “So it is all the more difficult to protect your health in such an unclean environment,” she said. Her husband said he did not open his fish stall because of the fear of COVID-19 pandemic.

‘Take it seriously’

M. Mohammed Sameer, who went to the Nelpettai market after visiting East Marret Street vegetable market, said people must begin taking COVID-19 seriously. “Physical distancing has become a joke today. People crowded together in cramped and unhygienic places, holding each other and brushing against each other. On East Marret Street, people were in a hurry to buy vegetables from the roadside shops, just for a slightly cheaper price than their neighbourhood shops. This is not a good sign,” he said.

Mr. Thirunavakarasu said while almost all shopkeepers wore masks, most of the shoppers did not. “We, the vendors, obviously become susceptible to the infection,” he said.

Collector T. G. Vinay, who visited Nelpettai, told The Hindu that wholesalers and retailers had opened shops without permission, resulting in crowding at markets. “As many as 15 FIRs have been registered against shopkeepers. We have planned to expand the door delivery facility to prevent people from coming out to buy groceries. Vegetable and fruit vendors can only sell in 10 mobile markets. We are also planning to streamline meat sales,” he said.

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