Giving social distancing a virtual go-by, people resorted to panic buying by swarming markets in cities including Chennai, Coimbatore and Madurai on Saturday to buy vegetables and essential commodities in view of the four day complete shutdown from Sunday.
As people thronged the markets, Chief Minister K Palaniswami ordered extension of time for shops selling essential commodities and vegetables by two more hours till 3 pm.
However, there was no dip in the crowds and important roads, and intersections that are usually deserted, teemed with vehicles and people.
Be it Koyambedu, one of the largest markets in Asia for vegetables, fruits and flowers or the cramped ones in locations like Royapuram, or the RS Puram Uzhavar Sandhai (farmers market) at Coimbatore, it was human heads everywhere.
People could be seen jostling for space in markets breaching social distancing norms and only a section of them sproted masks.
Every single shop had at least 100 men and women queuing up to buy veggies and other commodities.
As COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Tamil Nadu, Palaniswami on Friday had announced a complete shutdown beginning Sunday in Chennai, Coimbatore and Madurai for four days, disallowing grocery
shops as well and fully curtailing movement of the public.
Also, Salem and Tirupur in western Tamil Nadu will be shut similarly, albeit for three days from April 26 and Palaniswami assured people that vegetables and fruits shall reach their doorsteps via mobile outlets.
Chennai Corporation has made it clear that no shops will be allowed to function even for selling vegetables and fruits and that only push carts and mobile vehicles would be permitted to do so.
Pradeep John, well known as the 'Tamil Nadu Weatherman' in his Twitter handle, said many people he saw were not wearing masks, adding..."When I asked them, they all say my house is so nearby.
Whether your house is near or far, Please wear mask wen u go out".
Sections of people are apprehensive that the full shutdown may be extended further and this too prompted panic buying in several localities.
Even beyond the 3 pm deadline, several neighbourhood shops functioned and around 4.30 pm, all the roads and markets were deserted again with only police patrols and corporation flying squad vehicles doing the rounds.
Traders and vegetable dealers said they expected a surge in crowds on Saturday in view of the announcement of complete shutdown, adding they were able to meet the demand.
The government said it has made arrangements for supply of vegetables through vans.
Tamil Nadu Co-operative Milk Producers'Federation had announced that it has inked a pact with online food delivery aggregators Zomato and Duzo to distribute its flagship milk brand 'Aavin' and other dairy products,including ghee, directly to consumers in Chennai from its 21 hi-tech parlours effective Friday.
Districts, including Cuddalore announced that the complete lockdown will be followed on Sunday in their respective regions and disinfection tasks shall get priority.
Police and civic authorities meanwhile said tough action will be taken against those flouting the full lockdown norms.