I have been getting occasional reports from friends and family about how Sri Lanka is dealing with Covid-19. In their efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus caused to some extent by some people irresponsibly flouting the self-quarantine and social distancing rules, the government had instituted a strict curfew and people who are found violating it in those areas where it is in force are promptly taken into custody. But that policy meant that people were without access to food and other basic items. When the government tried lifting the curfew for a few hours to allow them to shop, that had the predictable result of huge crowds trying to buy things and many of them being turned away empty handed.
Now it appears that they have found another way to deal with that problem. The government has authorized vendors to travel around in trucks to various neighborhoods and streets to sell food and other essential items. Apparently there are different trucks for fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, and meats, and so on and when they come around people go outside their homes and buy whatever they need. Apparently there are even mobile ATMs so that people can get money.
This is quite a logistical feat in a country of around 20 million people. I am not sure how uniformly successful it is. My friends and family live in the capital Colombo and its vicinity which is where the country’s movers and shakers largely live and thus tends to get better services. How effectively the people in the rural areas are being served is unclear.
When I heard this news, my mind immediately went back to my childhood days. Then too one had vendors who would walk the streets of residential areas. Some would push large carts while others would have their wares in two baskets connected by a long pole that was balanced over one shoulder, with one basket in the front and the other at the back. The vendors would shout out what they were selling, and it was usually vegetables, fruits, or fish. I don’t recall meat or other items being part of the offerings. When one heard them coming, one went out and hailed them down and, of course, that began the process of bargaining over the price before the purchase was made.
So it looks like what is happening now is a modernized and scaled up version of what we had before.