Small pharmacies in the city may soon run out of medicines and other essential medical supplies, say drug distributors in Delhi, who are unable to maintain a continuous supply chain since the lockdown has been imposed in phases since Sunday. Despite the government saying that people working in essential sectors be allowed to travel, staff from warehouses and stores have not been able to reach their workplace.
“People from all over the city – Badarpur, Mandoli... – come to work in the three warehouses I run. But in the last two days most of my staff have not been able to reach the warehouses. The government says the people working in essential sector and those that help with their logistics should be able to move around. But how can I run my business without the staff? Even if I have the medicines and the vehicles, how will I deliver to the stores if my drivers are missing?” said Sandeep Nangia, president of the Delhi Chemists’ Association.
There are at least 15,000 neighbourhood drug stores in Delhi, with around 15 pharmacies in and around large tertiary care hospitals like the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, and Indraprastha Apollo open 24*7 to provide medicines in an emergency.
Most distributors across the city are facing the same problems. “I am receiving several complaints from across the city. Several of our members say the police are not willing to listen to them, they are just beating them up. I urge the police to tell the people manning the roads to check the ID cards of the people on the road and allow them to reach their work. People are now thinking of shutting shops and there will be a shortage of medicines in the city if this continues,” said Nangia.
After receiving complaints from several suppliers of medical items, milk and vegetables, Kejriwal on Wednesday said those who do not have an ID showing the essential service they are catering to will be issued an e-pass for free movement within and outside the city.
The government released a helpline number ‘1031’ for those who need e-passes.
“Those who are providing essential services, but do not have a formal ID card to back their claim will be issued an e-pass. Workers at grocery and provisional stores, milk plants and others can avail this. Only those engaged with such services without an ID should call on the helpline. Others should refrain form calling on it,” Kejriwal said.
One of the warehouse owners from Palam Vihar said the police took away two of his vehicles out on delivery.
“Today, I had sent a WagonR out for delivery to the neighbourhood chemist shops. While returning, the police stopped the vehicle and took the driver to the police station despite his having all the documents, including our drug licence. When I went there to check the situation, they took my scooty too before allowing me to go. They told me if they see my car out on the road again, they will impound it,” said Neeraj Agarwal, owner of the warehouse in Palam village.
“We have announced that essential service providers should get curfew passes for their employees. Those who have official IDs to prove that they are essential service providers are not being stopped by police personnel. Those who have not got the passes should visit the DCP office of the area where their office or company is located and get them issued,” said a senior police officer.
Aggarwal is working on skeletal staff because many are unable to reach work.“How can I continue distribution? I have now asked the owners of chemist shops to come and get medicines from the warehouse if they need it,” he said.
Punit Bhatia, who runs a warehouse in Rajouri Garden, said he just has three or four people to manage his warehouse. “The police is just not allowing people to reach here. And, I am not even getting proper supply from the drug companies because of the same reasons,” he said.
The owner of a chemist store in Sunlight colony said that they are stocked up, but since the lockdown started they are unable to get medicines from suppliers. Similar problems are being faced by one of Delhi’s oldest pharmacy – Nath Brothers.
“I am running on 20 to 30% of my staff. Yesterday, I had only 15% of my staff. They are either being stopped by the police or are unable to get a bus – the conductors are not allowing them to board even after checking their IDs. We have given them a letter on our letterhead stating that they work for us and may please be allowed to reach work even then they are facing difficulties,” said Rippon Nath, owner of the store.
“Even a well stocked shop like ours is facing difficulties, I am sure the neighbourhood shops must have started facing shortages. The supply has been slow for nearly four days now with the imposition of Section 144 before and now the lockdown,” he said.