The Union Ministry of Home Affairs on Thursday evening issued a Standard Operating Procedure for the availability of essential goods during the 21-day coronavirus lockdown period, asking state governments to ensure smooth functioning of services of retail stores and e-commerce firms.

The ministry said there should be no interruption in the services of small retail shops, large organised retail stores and e-commerce companies. Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said essential commodities are available to people through these three kinds of establishments.

The SOP said that in order to allow smooth functioning of the three kinds of operators, it is necessary to allow the operations of constituents of the supply chain. These constituents include suppliers of essential goods, including restaurants serving home deliveries, and facilities for storage of such goods.

The SOP said that movement of transporters, drivers, loaders etc. of essential goods must be allowed from the place of manufacture to wholesalers and retailers. Such movement could be intercity, intra-city or intra-state, the government said.

The Delhi Police had earlier on Thursday withdrawn its order allowing online delivery services to operate in the national Capital during the lockdown period, within hours of issuing it, PTI reported. The previous order included online service delivery in the list of “essential services”.

Many e-commerce firms were forced to suspend deliveries to their customers in major cities across the country on Wednesday with local authorities unable to ensure the safety of delivery persons on the first day of the lockdown imposed to contain the coronavirus pandemic. However, the Delhi Police had held a meeting with the representatives of e-commerce platforms and assured them help in ensuring smooth movement of essential services. Late on Wednesday, some e-commerce firms put out statements that they were operational. However, Amazon and Flipkart on Friday said they have temporarily suspended services.

The order released by the police on Thursday morning said that online delivery services like Zomato, Flipkart, Amazon, Swiggy, Myntra, Grofers and BigBasket would be allowed to operate in Delhi. But it was withdrawn later in the day. The police did not cite any reason for withdrawing the order immediately, but said that revised guidelines will be released shortly. An unidentified police official told PTI that a uniform order across states would be issued soon.

The toll in the coronavirus pandemic rose to 17 in India on Friday and the number of patients increased to 724, the Union Health Ministry said. This includes those who have recovered and 640 active cases. Two deaths were also reported from Bhilwara city in Rajasthan but the health ministry is yet to confirm them.

The lockdown ordered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has resulted in confusion as police personnel scrambled to put in place a system where delivery persons for online vendors were able to go about their jobs unhindered.