As it appears to be a daunting task to prevent overcrowding of shoppers in kitchen markets amid the alarming rise in coronavirus infection, health and urban experts suggested reshaping the kitchen markets immediately so that the city dwellers can collect their essentials avoiding mass gatherings.
They also voiced concern that the kitchen markets may turn into hotspots of community transmission of coronavirus as unmanageable people are overcrowding there to buy essentials taking the health risk.
Taking to UNB, Vice-Chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) Prof Kanak Kanti Barua, principal of Dhaka Medical College Prof Khan Abul Kalam Azad, Gonoshasthaya Kendra founder Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury and urban expert Iqbal Habib said the government should either enforce a curfew immediately or a complete lockdown to strictly implement social distancing and keep people indoors.
They also offered various suggestions for kitchen market reshaping, including entrusting enough number of vendors with the responsibility for selling kitchen items at different points of every block, road and lanes so that people can buy those from in front of their houses instead of going to kitchen markets.
Dr. Kanak Kanti Barua said people are grossly flouting the directives of staying home and maintaining social distancing as they are roaming here and there and kitchen markets.
"I fear we may have to pay a heavy price in the days to come if this continues. Kitchen market reshaping is now imperative to keep people indoors. Every kitchen market is overcrowded while many people are coming out of their homes unnecessarily and chatting and smoking together. This has to be stopped. Otherwise, the coronavirus situation is likely to take a serious turn in the weeks to come," he said.
The BSMMU VC said law enforcers have taken an initiative to ensure one-way-entry system of the kitchen markets or to relocate the kitchen markets to open spaces. "This is not enough as people are crowding at the entry of markets. We should take steps so that people need not to come to markets. We should go for a complete lockdown without disrupting the food supply and distribution chain."
"A number of makeshift kitchen shops can be set up at open spaces at every block of every residential area from where people will buy groceries maintaining social distancing. Police and political leaders can supervise these shops so that many people can't gather there at a time. When such shops will be available in every area people won't crowd there," he suggested.
Prof Abul Kalam Azad said the government needs to take immediate steps to reshape the kitchen markets to prevent mass gatherings.
He said the government can promptly make a list of the poor and jobless people and provide food to their houses free of cost through law enforcers and public representatives and volunteers. The public representatives and political activists should play a role in keeping people indoors and reaching the food their doorsteps."
The DMCH principal said the government should also enforce a curfew as an effective step to force people to stay at home and control the transmission of the virus. "If the curfew is imposed, the government needs to make sure that people are getting their necessary foods and essentials at their doorsteps."
"We must control public gatherings at all places, including kitchen markets. We must force people to stay indoors. Or else, several million people can get infected with the virus. I think, the Prime Minister should focus on controlling people's movement by imposing a curfew and reshaping kitchen markets so that people can't go outside their homes," he observed.
Dr. Zafrullah said kitchen markets are now a major concern for the rise in coronavirus infection as people are overcrowding there for groceries without knowing the consequences.
"The government now must think about restructuring the kitchen markets to check public gatherings. At least 10 vendors can be designated for every lane/or block of residential areas where they will sell vegetables, fish and meat items on pushcarts. People can easily buy food items from there avoiding mass gatherings," he said.
Zafrullah further said, "At the same time, it'll create a scope for jobs for many jobless people. Police and political activists can monitor whether people are buying food items maintaining social distancing. This can be a way for keeping people away from gathering at kitchen markets."
Besides, he said, law enforcers and army should strictly enforce the instructions of keeping people indoors and maintaining social distancing.
Iqbal Habib said it is not possible to keep people indoors unless their basic needs are ensured. "If they get the kitchen items, medicines and other necessary things at their doorsteps, they won't to market and crowd there.
Echoing Zafrullah he said if the vendors take the essentials in front of every house, people will not go to kitchen markets.
Besides, Habib said the government has a digital application 'Porichoy' where the information of all voters has been preserved. "The government can now go for digital mapping through the 'Porichoy' and identify the hapless and jobless people and provide them with food and other necessary items free of cost."
He said the government also can introduce a new mobile app through which people will order whatever they need and those will be sent to their houses by deliverymen.
Habib said online shopping can also be promoted by the government so that people can collect their essentials by ordering online. "If these steps can be taken, people won't go to kitchen markets. People won't stop going to kitchen markets until they get its alternative or food at their doorsteps.