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By Sankalp Phartiyal
NEW DELHI - India's online delivery firms, including Walmart Inc's Flipkart and Amazon's grocery service Pantry, have had to halt services as a 21-day nationwide lockdown began to fight the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Flipkart, whose services include grocery deliveries, did not say how long the suspension would last.
"Our promise is that we will be back to serve you, as soon as possible," a notice on the Flipkart website and mobile app said on Wednesday.
Bengaluru-based Flipkart's move follows a similar decision by rival Amazon.com Inc's India unit, which said on Tuesday it would limit services to the sale and delivery of essential products.] As of Wednesday, Amazon's Pantry grocery delivery service was unavailable across several cities.
People across the world have turned to online retailers to buy household goods, food and medicines as countries impose measures to try to contain the virus outbreak.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a 21-day countrywide lockdown from midnight on Tuesday, an announcement that sparked widespread panic buying.
Although the federal government advised that online deliveries of essential goods such as food and medicines be exempt, different messages from the country's regional government has created confusion.
The message has not filtered down to those enforcing the lockdown in India.
A company delivery executive, carrying medicines, was baton-charged by the policemen as they tried to disperse people in a New Delhi neighbourhood and at least three others have been prevented from getting products to customers, said Ananth Narayanan, the chief executive officer of online healthcare platform Medlife.
"You have to enforce the lockdown with empathy, I don't think you need to be brutal," Narayanan said. "When somebody gets beaten up it's very difficult to get other people to come to work."
Alibaba-backed online grocer BigBasket said its services had been impacted.
"We are working with the local authorities for the passes and permits that allow movement of personnel and vehicles involved," BigBasket said in a statement.
The company also said it was booked for the next seven days in almost all the cities it operated in, highlighting stockpiling by customers.
Albinder Dhindsa, the CEO of SoftBank-backed online grocer Grofers, said his company had been able to open a warehouse on the outskirts of New Delhi which had been locked down by law enforcement.
"We are working to resume supplies within 24 hours," Dhindsa tweeted.
(Reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman, Edwina Gibbs and Louise Heavens)