Lockdown in Chennai Area for 12 days from June 19

Published : June 15, 2020 18:22 IST

Homeless people queue up to receive free food at Koyambedu on June 15. Photo: B. Velankanni Raj

Just three days after saying that there was no plan for a complete lockdown anywhere in the State, the Tamil Nadu government announced just the opposite on June 15: From June 19, Chennai and three nearby districts, accounting for more than 10 per cent of the total population of the State, will be placed under lockdown for a further 12 days. The nearby districts are Tiruvallur, Chengalpattu and Kancheepuram.

This region, broadly Chennai Area, contributes to a major share of the COVID burden in the State, mainly because of the mishandling of the crisis by the Chennai Corporation, the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), and the Health Department. The Chennai Corporation Commissioner has been repeatedly pulled up by the Chief Secretary, but continues to occupy the chair.

According to leaders familiar with the State’s polity, this is because of his proximity to the Local Administration Minister. Similarly, the CMDA member secretary, who was earlier Chennai Corporation Commissioner, did not draw any flak for having allowed the retail market to function in Koyambedu, despite this being a place where physical distancing cannot be practiced.

Last week, WhatsApp was full of rumours that the government was planning yet another lockdown from June 15. When this was brought to the notice of Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami, he told presspersons that the government was not contemplating any such move.

In fact, this pattern is found in almost all that the government has been doing. One official, who is in the forefront of the COVID-19 containment fight, told this correspondent last week when asked about the rumours: “They [the government] do not even have a plan for tomorrow; you are asking about next week!”

The experts committee on public health is supposed to have decided on the lockdown. After a meeting with the Chief Minister, members of the committee came out, met the press, and declared that they had requested that the government announce another lockdown.

The committee had recommended 14-day shutdown, officials said, but the government decided that 12 days was long enough. There is no scientific basis for a truncated lockdown within Unlock-1, but the government went ahead with it.

A committee member spoke about the inefficiency of the Chennai Corporation officials at Ripon Building, which has led to the current situation, one official said. This view is widely shared outside too. “Chennai Corporation needs an effective Commissioner, a hardworking Deputy Commissioner in charge of health, and a forceful Health Officer who will fight to implement strategies,” said a doctor. “Sadly, it lacks these,” he added.

The lockdown is despite the realisation at all levels of government that the lockdown had meant that people crowded shops and other places between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.—the opening hours—and had possibly led to a spread of the infection. Despite this lesson, the government has gone ahead and announced an implementation of the suggestion, leading to panic buying in many localities in the city.

“The heaviest infection burden is in three zones in north Chennai,” said an official working closely with the civic body. “It’s a pity that instead of adopting efficient strategies to control the infection here, four districts are being penalised. If there is a strategy to control the infections in north Chennai, it remains a secret,” he added.

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