COVID-19 impact: Uncertainty looms over APMC market operations

Updated: May 01, 2020, 07:29 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

Officials wait for NMMC's report on the positive cases to decide on keeping market open as safety precautions worth a crore seem unable to arrest the spread

APMC has decided, on several occassions, to shut down but reopened at the government's insistance. Pics/ Sameer Markande
APMC has decided, on several occassions, to shut down but reopened at the government's insistance. Pics/ Sameer Markande

Four more cases of Coronavirus were reported from the APMC market — three in the vegetable and one in the grain market — on Thursday, increasing the uncertainty about the operation of the wholesale grain and vegetable market.

The infected include three traders and one purchaser. APMC already has 24 traders and 16 staff, including security guards, NMMC doctors and a pharmacist, in home-quarantine after they came in contact with an infected person. Besides, 14 others from the market are infected. The spike also raises concerns about the steps taken by the APMC committee to combat the spread of the virus at the cost of nearly a crore.

Shivaji Daund, commissioner of the Konkan division, said, "We are awaiting the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation's (NMMC) report on the latest positive cases. Accordingly, we will decide on whether to continue the operations."

A crore spent on precautions

Shashikant Shinde, APMC elected committee member and Mathadi workers union leader said, "Last week, six positive cases were reported at a hotel within APMC premises. It was decided that the market would shut down but due to government pressure, the decision was changed and only the hotel was sealed. Vegetable trucks are directly entering Mumbai. Very few trucks with vegetables, grains, fruits, spices, visit APMC."

Shinde added that according to the government APMC is an essential service and hence cannot be shut down. "I had recently suggested that we keep the market open for just three days of the week. The suggestion was turned down."

Highly placed APMC officials said the committee has spent nearly R1 crore to set up disinfectant spraying machines, a war room, and to get the market cleaned twice a week. Another nearly R50 lakh was spent to make alternative arrangements for 402 stalls for vegetable and fruit vendors in Kharghar, but that won't be utilised as traders feel the market in Vashi is already set.

Market insiders said, "We are using disinfectants and have thermal scanners at the main entrance but nothing can detect asymptomatic false-positive carriers of COVID-19. People coming in contact with such carriers are testing positive. The number will only increase in the coming days."

Another elected member of the APMC committee said, "Another problem is traders placing orders for multiple trucks full of produce.

"We allow only three hundred trucks to enter APMC per day and 300 are parked at the terminal waiting for entry. This shows that some traders are keen on making money during a pandemic."

Security officer infected

Last week, a 50-year-old security officer attached to the Maharashtra Security Board and deployed at APMC, tested positive. Five security guards, three officers, and two clerks attached to the fruit market had come in contact with him and were sent to home-quarantine.

"We were tested two days ago. The report will come in another two days. We are asymptomatic and are in home quarantine. The security officer used to attend meetings and take rounds of the fruit market," said Ishwar Masram, deputy secretary of the fruit market, who is also in home quarantine.

Sources within the market said, "Though it is not clear how the security officer got infected, the buzz in the market is that he attended a meeting organised by a state minister who is recuperating after getting infected. Our concern is that it is practically difficult to trace whom the concerned person came in contact with unless the person has downloaded the government's Ayush application that maps positive patients and their contacts."

"APMC has a staff of 550 people. The concern is that if one tests positive, 10 to 15 people contacts will have to be traced and tested. This means the number of working men will reduce as everyone will have to be quarantined," said Shirish Badgujar, assistant secretary APMC.

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