Tamil Nadu records highest number of cases in a day

Published : May 04, 2020 19:34 IST

Inside Koyambedu market in Chennai on April 25, the day before the city went into a four-day shutdown within the lockdown. Photo: M. Vedhan

Tamil Nadu recorded its highest number of coronavirus positive cases today, 527, nearly two months after the first case was reported. The spike is attributed by observers to a combination of factors—poor management, hasty decision-making and the reluctance of the government to involve the opposition parties and all elected representatives in the fight against the spread of the infection. On May 3, there were 266 positive cases, up from 231 on May 2 and 203 on May 1.

The number of positive cases has gone up significantly since April 30 (161 cases) and the government claims that this is because of the increase in the number of samples being tested in the State. A media bulletin issued by the Health Department today stated that 1.62 lakh samples had been sent for testing. There are 2,107 active cases in the State as on May 4, and the total number of deaths is 31, including one today.

While there are at least a few major reasons for this spike in transmission, the immediate reason is the serious lapse on the part of the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority in not screening drivers of heavy vehicles from other States, apart from traders and workers, arriving at Tamil Nadu’s biggest vegetable-cum-fruit–cum-flower market at Koyambedu.

The government has undertaken a belated but massive contact tracing exercise of those who were working in Koyambedu. The infection numbers from this one cluster is soaring: 320 as on May 4 morning. Of this, as many as 129 workers were found to be in Cuddalore district, 76 in Villupuram, 63 in Chennai, 42 in Ariyalur, seven in Kanchipuram and one each in Perambalur, Tiruvarur and Thanjavur. In a knee-jerk reaction the government decided to shut down the Koyambedu market on May 4. The announcement came from the CMDA market managing committee.

The development of a new COVID-19 hotspot in the State in the market is because of a three major reasons: One, an official’s decision to shut the multiple entry and exit gates of the market and leave only one entry and one exit gate open. This put massive pressure on the entry and exit gates, leading to massive traffic snarls. As a result, hundreds of traders who picked up vegetables and fruits from the market in smaller vehicles and headed to their places of sale were forced to spend too much time inside the market.

Second, the Koyambedu market traders demanded the opening of the now-vacant MTC bus terminus and the omnibus terminus to do business because physical distancing norms could not be followed inside the congested premises of the market. This was shot down by the government, which suggested that half the traders could shift to a different suburb of the city. The traders refused and offered to shut down business altogether.

“The difference between other districts and Chennai is that neither the Chennai Corporation Commissioner nor the Chennai Collector has the power to take all decisions for the city. This is part of the problem,” says Karate Thiagarajan, former Chennai Deputy Mayor. “Remember, Chennai has about 22 Assembly constituencies [parts of some constituencies fall outside] spread across 15 zones. When there is this vast an area, with such a huge population, a comprehensive approach is needed,” he added. In the case of Koyambedu, though it is within Chennai Corporation limits, the powers to control it are vested with multiple authorities.

Third, the government decided to allow retail trade to continue despite the congestion in the market. Some consumers who flocked the market on April 25, the day before the lockdown within a lockdown, claimed that they were there because of the availability of fresh vegetables, a wide choice and the low cost.

AIADMK spokespersons and even Ministers, such as R.B. Udayakumar, held on to the customer sentiment and blamed people for the crowding of the market and other places. But this did not take into consideration the fact that the messaging from the government had been poor. For instance, even though the order from the Chief Secretary issued yesterday clearly said that the relaxations were applicable only from May 6, people were out on the streets on May 4 itself because the order was not clearly communicated to the community at large.

It is also appears ridiculous to blame the people when police have been vigilant and have imposed high penalty on people who are outside their homes without a proper reason. As of this morning, the police had seized 3.42 lakh vehicles, lodged FIRs against 4.07 lakh citizens and had collected just over Rs.4 crore in penalties.

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