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EXCLUSIVE:: Home delivery workers: Unofficial frontliners of COVID-19 pandemic in Manipur

TFM Photo: A woman returning home after buying basic items from a local shop

As markets and shops have been shut due to curfew, the only way to get essential commodities is through the home delivery services. Interesting the list of activities exempted by the curfew under the earlier order did not mention anything about such service. 

By Naorem Tanoranjan

As Manipur reels under the raging second wave of COVID-19 pandemic with record single day spike in new cases and deaths, the Manipur Government clamped curfew in seven districts — Imphal West, Imphal East, Bishnupur, Thoubal, Kakching, Churachandpur, and Ukhrul, on May 7 for 10 days. 

On April 29, the areas under Imphal Municipal Corporation (IMC) and Greater Imphal were announced as containment zones for 10 days. Several exemptions were made in the Home Department order including opening of local grocery stores and shops from 6 am to 10 am. So the people didn’t face much hardships in terms of the availability of essential items. 

But the May 7 curfew order did not mention such exemption. Neither was there any provision for opening of local shops, nor was there any specific mention of home delivery services. The sudden announcement late on May 7 meant that people were left to do with what they had. 

One of the problems of those positive cases admitted in various hospitals and COVID care centres in the state is the provision of food. There are reports that the authority is not providing the food — lunch, breakfast, dinner, to these inmates. Instead the family members, relatives and friends are delivering it to the hospitals and care centres. 

This is in stark difference to what the state saw in the first wave of the pandemic. Even those who returned to the state from outside were provided their food while they were in quarantine centres at different locations. The state government is yet to clarify the rationality about this policy change. 

Once an individual is found positive, the district administration usually issued an order announcing his or her house (sometimes the whole colony) as a containment zone. Some local clubs and organisations have taken the matter into their own hands restricting movements in the locality by putting up barricades. 

On the other hand, if the positive case is admitted to a hospital or COVID care centre then it begs the question as to who will deliver his or her lunch and dinner. For those who have a relative or friend outside the containment zone are somehow managing. But for the others home delivery services are their only resort in the prevailing situations. They also provide essential items to the families in the containment zones, maintaining the SOP, of course.

Speaking to TFM, Appibom managing director Lukram Tibit informed that his home delivery service usually deals in grocery, electronic, clothing, books, handloom & handicrafts, health related items, etc. But ever since the second wave hit the state priority was given to grocery or food items. There were around 1,000 clients ordering grocery and food items per day, he informed. 

Since the May 7 (curfew) order did not specifically mention the home delivery services, Tibit said that his staff were detained and fined on May 8 when they went for delivering the goods. Since then there have been many pending orders and some of the items are even rotting, he lamented. 

But the general public continue to place their demands, he said. Some are even complaining that in such a crucial period why the delivery service was not doing its job. Some even lashes out that the delivery service should be shut down if it cannot see the hardships of the people, he added. 

Tibit also urged the state government to let the home delivery service do its job as a frontline worker. It is not just about the profit but we are providing the essential food items in the larger interest of serving the people with a dedication amidst the danger posed by the deadly virus, he added. 

On the other hand, Ksh Romeo of BookTou told TFM the hardships that the home delivery service providers are facing at present. He said that the employees faced harassment at the hand of police.

Romeo said that his delivery service used to deliver food to patients in RIMS, Raj Medicity, etc before the curfew. He narrated an instance where a patient at RIMS failed to pick up the call when contacted to pick up his food. The next day it was learnt that the person had passed away due to COVID complications. 

Meanwhile, Lakhan Thangjam of Hummingbird Food Delivery told TFM that the same problem was encountered in the first wave of the pandemic in March-April 2020. After some food delivery agents were detained by the police, the matter was resolved at the district administration level then. 

Lakhan urged the state government to consider the problem and find a solution in a systematic manner so that there was no confusion between the law enforcing agencies and the delivery agents. 

Veteran journalist Yambem Laba in his recent piece “COVID: The second visit” appreciated the clamping of curfew, but questioned how long can the population be kept locked up. 

“Don’t they require to go out and buy food and medicines? Unlike the first wave, there is no visible sign of wannabe MLAs distributing food grains and lentils and cooking oil this time around. At least one member of the family should be allowed to venture out at least for two hours to procure essential items and please allow them to use their vehicles as it will save time,” he pleaded. 

Meanwhile, some individuals told TFM that they are confused with the way the government is handling the situation. While appreciating the steps taken to curb the spread of the virus, they are particularly curious about the provisions of food and nutrients. While the radio, television and newspapers are filled with messages to boost the immunity by consuming nutritional food, there is no way of acquiring such foods at present, they said and urged the government to consider minute details while putting out an order instead of reacting to the situation hastily. 

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