Fear and anger as India's Bihar locks down again

Patna (India) (AFP) –


Thousands of Indians ignored social distancing rules to throng markets in Patna on Wednesday, desperate to stock up on essentials before midnight when Bihar state's 125 million inhabitants go into coronavirus lockdown.

With the vast nation's coronavirus caseload fast approaching one million -- and around 500 people dying every day -- many cities and regions are reimposing restrictions, including IT hub Bangalore, where streets were deserted Wednesday.

The 15-day lockdown ordered in northern Bihar, one of India's most impoverished states, means only shops selling essentials will be allowed to open.

Public transport will cease, while all schools, clubs and temples must also close.

Unlike in Bangalore, which went into a seven-day shutdown on Tuesday night, private vehicles will still be allowed on Bihar's roads.

Construction and agricultural work can also continue.

Radhika Singh, a housewife in her late 40s, was one of just a few shoppers wearing a facemask on Wednesday as she jostled for rice, lentils and other staples at a Patna market.

"We have not faced such a situation in my life before, it is really a horrible experience," she told AFP.

The lack of personal protection gear and flouting of social distancing regulations led some to be angry about the re-imposed lockdown.

- 'God's mercy' -

"People don't concern themselves," Syed Amin Iqbal, a retired bank employee, told AFP.

"This lockdown is a must to break the chain of the virus spreading."

He said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government had failed to check the epidemic, and had also shown little concern for the poor, who have been hit the hardest.

"People are left at God's mercy," he said.

A nationwide lockdown imposed almost overnight in late March left tens of millions of migrant workers without jobs, prompting many to return to their home villages -- some on foot.

Many restrictions have since been eased, and the federal and state governments have announced welfare programmes, but economic activity remains in the doldrums and many of the poor are desperate.

In Patna, the immediate concern was stocking up on supplies.

Neelam Devi, who comes from a poor community, was buying a hefty 59-kilogramme (130-pound) sack of rice and 15 kilos of flour from a wholesale grain market Wednesday.

"During the earlier lockdown, we ran out of rice and flour because failed to purchase ahead of lockdown. This time we decided not to repeat the mistake."