India Allows Neighborhood Stores to Reopen, Keeps Malls Shut
A grocery store in Puducherry drew circles on the road for people, to stand away from each other as they wait in a queue. (Source: PTI)

India Allows Neighborhood Stores to Reopen, Keeps Malls Shut

(Bloomberg) --

India’s government is allowing smaller neighborhood stores to reopen, bringing relief to residents after a month into the world’s biggest lockdown that’s restricting 1.3 billion people.

The shops can deploy a maximum of 50% of their staff, all wearing masks and following social distancing rules, according to the order issued Friday night by the home ministry. The order includes standalone stores in housing complexes in municipal areas, while shops in market places within municipal areas and all malls will remain closed until May 3.

India allowed some economic activity to resume on Monday to limit damage to Asia’s third-largest economy after efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic brought work to a halt. Barring exemptions for some businesses, almost all residents are required to stay at home for 40 days through May 3. Friday’s order will enable states to open up their economy further.

“It is clear that government wants to restart the economy but it is of no use to start production without opening up consumption channels,” said Kumar Rajagopalan, chief executive officer of Retailers’ Association of India. The easing shows “the government has right intentions to revive the economy.”

In a statement Saturday, the home ministry said e-commerce companies will continue to be permitted for essential goods only, and sale of liquor continues to be prohibited.

India’s economy is set for a near-complete disruption of economic activity for at least 40 days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi doubled the duration of the initial 21-day lockdown but allowed farmers and some industries outside virus hotspots to resume operations from April 20.

Nomura Holdings Inc. estimates as much as 60% of the economy can now be opened, but not before shrinking output by 0.4% for the year started April 1 compared with growth of 4.6% the previous year.

The nation has so far reported more than 24,000 infections and 780 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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