How Chennai turned in to a Corona hotbed and struggling to cope up

Published : Jun 18, 2020 05:40 pm | By: M D Sridharan

Chennai has turned in to a Corona Hotbed and struggling to cope up. While on one side the state government list out various measures taken to control the pandemic in the last three months, majority of the public feels a lot need to be done.

Chennai, the Southern Metropolis, is facing one of its biggest challenges in the last decade. The current Corona crisis is not only vastly different than the other natural disasters like worst floods, devastating cyclone and crippling drought the city has witnessed. Today the capital city has been forced to deal with massive health crisis. Unprecedented in the history of Tamil Nadu, now the state is battling against an invisible enemy - the deadly Coronavirus. Today Chennai has become the hotbed of Covid-19 in Tamil Nadu, accounting for more than 70% of the positive cases in the state. While the state has a total count of 50000 Covid cases, the capital Chennai’s tally stands at over 40000 cases.

While in many other districts across Tamil Nadu, which ones witnessed a spike in Corona cases, the government has managed to control the disease, Chennai continue to remain as the hotbed with cases spiralling in alarming proportions on a day to day basis.

Initially two clusters - Tablighi Jamaat and Koyambedu market have thrown up a marked increase in the number of Coronavirus cases in the city. Chennai first saw a rapid increase in cases in early April following the return of Tablighi Jamaat attendees from New Delhi. The Tabitha Jamaal delegates were scattered and moved to different parts of the state.

By the third week of April,2020,   the city had more than 300 cases. The cases continued to increase in the next few days and the Chennai saw a sudden spurt in new cases in the first week of May. The Koyambedu wholesale vegetable market turned out to be the epicentre contributing more positive cases.  As the virus spread, the government swung in to action and shut down the market,

Besides a religious meet held in Chennai’s Thiru Vi Ka Nagar, compounded the problem leading to as many as 50 cases in the locality and it spread further.  The number of people who travelled abroad and returned to the city also added to the number of  Coronavirus cases.

Further, the panic stricken EPS government forced double lockdown and it backfired. The government had imposed a 'complete lockdown' for four days from April 26, enforcing stricter rules pertaining to movement of people. However, they had announced the same on April 24, leaving one day for people to shop for essentials. Public naturally thronged markets, stocking up for four days with social distancing norms going for a toss in many places. Pictures of crowded markets were out everywhere for all to see.

But, the state government attributed the 'aggressive testing' behind the sudden spurt in the number of cases. The government claimed that it has tested more samples than any other state, including Maharashtra and nearly 98% of cases in Chennai have been asymptomatic and that has proved to be a serious challenge for authorities.   Also, the government claimed that the fatality rate in Tamil Nadu is less than 1%. But the opposition slammed the government saying it is suppressing the data s many hospitals did not release the actual number of deaths.

Why cases spiked aggressively in Chennai?

The main problem that most Indian cities face, especially the metros, is the huge shortage of health infrastructure. Considering the size of the population of each of the metros, the kind of the health infrastructure it can boast of is appalling and much below the international standards. Chennai is no exception.     

The focus in the initial weeks was firmly on north Chennai, with the narrow lanes in the area contributing to cases. With more clusters emerging, the next few weeks has seen an increase in cases in the other regions too.

 Chennai is currently Tamil Nadu’s biggest hotspot contributing directly to 30,000 cases and indirectly contributing to hundreds of cases across the state, with several migrants leaving the city to their respective districts. What began as a single case on March 9 has snowballed into a growing crisis that has resulted in creating panic among the residents. Both the government and the authorities calling the shots are to be blamed. But, they also point the fingers towards the public inciting failing to strictly follow the government’s guidelines.

What happened in the Koyambedu market cluster is the case in point. The market, touted to be Asia’s largest vegetable market, houses 3000 shops.  The first sign of the market turning into a Coronavirus cluster emerged in the last week of April, but it was only on May 4 that the market was shut. Until then, plenty of small shops in the cramped area continued to operate with little adherence to social distancing and also personal protection.

Contact tracing has also proved difficult, as hundreds of labourers moved to their native districts thus carrying the virus unknowingly and spreading them across the state. In the second week of May, Tamil Nadu became the third state in India to record over 7,000 COVID cases, with Chennai alone registering over 50% of the cases. Other than Chennai, Cuddalore, Villupuram, Tiruvallur, Chengelpet and Kancheepuram record the most number Coronavirus cases in Tamil Nadu.

Koyambedu cluster for more than 1000 cases of infections, the government closed the market. The failure of the government to test all the labourers and allowing them to move to their native places before closing the market has resulted in a sudden spike across the state. The market should have been closed at least a week ago and necessary precautions be taken to avoid  spread of infection.  Had the government tested and quarantined the labourers and then decided who can leave the city, the infection could have been contained by a great deal.

Moreover, on April 25, a day before the 'complete lockdown', crowds gathered across the city to gather supplies. And when retail stores ran out, they headed to the Koyambedu market, increasing chances of infection.

In case of the Thiru-Vi Ka nagar, the callous attitude of the authorities allowed the organisers to conduct a mass prayer during the pandemic and it created havoc in the area. Also, ahead of the second lockdown, there were immense crowds across the city. They offered no proper logic or reasoning for this. It was totally unnecessary and may have made things worse," he adds.

Has the government and authorities failed?

The one thing that was glaringly visible and has lead to the huge spike in the COVID cases in Chennai , is the failure of Chennai Corporation authorities.  In most places, the officials were not all that serious in implementing measures to contain the spread.  They miserably failed in properly educating the people, especially in affected clusters where a sizable  labour population lives. In general, most parts of North Chennai are not only heavily congested but many houses lack even the basic necessities. In many clusters, people still continue to use public toilets and the Chennai corporation did not step up measures in improving the facilities at  the time of pandemic of this proportion.

Moreover, the corporation authorities simply adhered to the basic action of sprinkling water mixed with bleaching powder near the dustbins and the sides of the roads as measure of containing the disease. In some places they hired tankers filled water mixed bleaching powder, many complained, that they did not even use powerful germ killing solutions but only bleaching powder as a matter of routine exercise. Even that was not maintained regularly and only in some pockets of Chennai and that too some streets.

Further, over the period of the lockdown, both doctors and sanitary workers and even Police personnel got infected. In many zones the sanitation workers were not provided adequate protection gears. Worst, even several government doctors complain of shortage in PPEs and several doctors complained lack of protective gear and warned that it could lead to further spread of the virus amongst those who visit hospitals. The failure to initially test police and volunteers who were managing the streets could also be considered a reason for Chennai’s growing numbers As a result many of them – sanitation workers, doctors, nurses and even policemen stand affected by the disease.

Do the people lack discipline?

The failure of the Chennai Corporation, has only resulted in Chennai continue to remain COVID  hotbed, but they blame the people for not following the guidelines strictly. The officials were more concerned in collecting data regarding Corona, than providing the basic amenities. Had the corporation planned in advance and took necessary steps in providing the basic amenities, people would not have moved out from one cluster to another paving the way for spreading the disease.

A majority of health officials, however, allege that irresponsibility on the part of residents and failure to take the disease seriously is amongst the chief reasons for Chennai's increasing numbers. They complain that though necessary precautions have been put in place but people are failing to follow them.

 At least 25% of residents in containment zones are not wearing masks and are also not maintaining social distancing. People's attitude is problematic because they believe that they won't get the virus. When people exhibiting no symptoms turn out to be infected, those around think that there is no need to fear it. They ask why they should take precaution when there are repercussions even when infected".

Even Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami had admitted that the dense population was amongst the reasons for the spread of the virus. But the most challenging aspect in educating the masses, according to a state government official, has been that at least 90% of those affected are asymptomatic.

In fact, the lockdown, when announced, was with the motive to protect the vulnerable. Besides, the sheer density of population is a factor that affects the spread of the virus.

Also, one cannot deny that there is poor compliance in Chennai. Still, a vast section of people have not taken the pandemic seriously and the absolute carelessness of the people has also contributed to the huge spike in the cases in Chennai. Some sections of people are not following the guidelines stipulated by the government like wearing masks, maintaining social distance, and washing hands regularly.

Tamil Nadu Health minister Dr, Vijayabhaskar also released a video in which he earnestly appealed to teh people to strictly adhere to the preventive measures such as wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. 

Govt. need to improve and increase its measures

As the cases spike exponentially, the people of Chennai are really worried about the prevailing situation. With the number of the frontline warriors like doctors, nurses, and sanitation workers and even policemen are down with virus,   naturally people of Chennai are  panic stricken. Moreover rumour mongers are active and continue to paint a grim picture on the  Corona status in Chennai like severe shortage of beds  in hospitals, shortage of doctors and nurses  in and around Chennai,  the  testing efficiency of labs in Chennai, real data on the number of positive cases and  death figures and  the right  measures of  the  containment strategy. Such reports not only trigger confusion in the minds of the people but also lead to depression. It is the responsibility of the government to not only allay the fears of the general public but also step up the measures on a war footing to control the pandemic.

The government is considering several factors to curb the spread.  As of now, those with mild symptoms are advised to follow self quarantine at homes. The Chennai municipal corporation came up with a strategy of door-to-door screening in every containment zone so as to identify all those who may have Coronavirus before it leads to community transmission.

Also, government has initiated steps to provide a combination of Siddha drugs along with Allopathic  medicines . There are reports that the by providing   Siddha medicinal drinks and herbal Tea to the people tea in the affected clusters has yielded excellent results in combating the virus. Especially, in Koyambedu zone, the free supply of drinks has drastically controlled the spread of the disease. Siddha doctors are of the opinion that if the government organises to provide such drinks to other affected clusters in the city, the infection can be easily brought under control. It is learned that the government has planned to follow the same in other clusters. like Royapuram. Though, the combination of Siddha and Allopathic medicines work magic, there are reports that some senior doctors at government hospitals are not encouraging SIddha. Encouraged by the results of Siddha medicines, now the government has also opened couple of exclusive Siddha centres to treat the Chennai patients

Despite, each zone in Chennai is headed by an IAS officer, the results are not encouraging. Opposition parties point out that one of the main reason for the spread is that there is no coordinated effort from the health authorities and the IAS officers. As day by day more people in Chennai are affected by the disease the government had recently appointed a group of ministers to monitor containment activities in the city and the adjoining districts of Chengalpet, Kancheepuram and Thiruvallur districts.

Further, the government has appointed 2,500 field workers to work alongside the civic body to prevent the spread of COVID 19 in slum areas under the jurisdiction of the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC). The field workers will track homes in the affected clusters and advice residents on the importance of social distancing, wearing masks and washing their hands with soap and water to maintain hygiene amid the pandemic. The field workers will keep a track of the households affected by COVID-19 and provide the residents with masks, Kabasura Kudineer and nutrition tablets. Those who are found to be displaying symptoms of COVID-19 will be taken to the nearest health facility for treatment and tests.  Besides, the field workers will also assist the elderly, pregnant women and people with diabetes with their medical needs.

Concerned about the alarming increase in the COVID-19 cases in Chennai and its suburbs despite the steps taken by the Tamil Nadu government to contain the spread of the disease, the Madras High Court asked the state government that why complete lockdown cannot be implemented for some time in the Chennai city and its outskirts to contain the spread of the pandemic.  A bench of justices Vineet Kothari and R Suresh Kumar made it clear they raised the question about lockdown as citizens of the state and the city, in the interest of the public,). With nearly 40,000 cases, the metropolis accounts for over 75% of the state's tally and the rising number of deaths too, worried the court.

But the Chief Minister Edapadi Pakanisamt says everything is very much under control. . “The State government is taking the right measures to control the spread of the disease in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Central government and medical experts,” said Palaniswami.

Tamil Nadu leads in preventive measures in the country. While Medical experts and those who underwent treatment are appreciating the government’s measures, the opposition is criticising the efforts for the sake of criticising.  Tamil Nadu leads in testing and we have the highest number of labs in the country at 67 labs.”

Appreciating the efforts of doctors, nurses, healthcare and sanitary workers who are working day and night despite the risks involved, Palaniswami said that 3,85,185 tests have been done for 3,67,939 persons in the State and there are only 7,524 active cases.

The government has pressed in to service an additional 50 ambulances to take the needy to hospitals in the containment zones. Amidst, panic that already all hospitals are running full; the government has made arrangements to increase the beds by converting several colleges in to temporary Covid care centres

Hitherto, the onus of containing the spread of Corona in Chennai was solely in the hand s of the Health department. But, since the spread has spiked the Tamil Nadu government has roped in all the departments. It has initiated a “Micro Plan’ and accordingly the containment activities ions have been categorised and handed over to other departments.

Accordingly, the various government departments will be handling activities such as monitoring the spread, identifying the affected people, organising tests for them and as per the need admitting them in the hospitals. Besides, regularly sanitising the containment zones, door to door checking, taking care of the elderly and also providing the essential items to the people are being carried out under the “Micro Plan”. The government has also roped in several NGOs in the process.

All over the world the urban pockets continue to be a huge problem for the health officials.  Continuous living spaces and poor living conditions make things difficult from a public health point of view. 

Further, all over the world, we have seen that the COVID pandemic begin to subside only after reaching the peak. As far as Chennai is concerned the medical experts are of the opinion that the pandemic has reached the peak. So, in order to meet any contingency the government claims to have kept ready 17500 beds in Chennai alone out of which 5000 are in ICUs. Besides, the government has introduced 250 mobile clinics to serve the people of Chennai.  In addition an additional force of 12500 that include doctors, nurses and sanitation workers have newly inducted in to the service.

The government claims that over 70% of the total number of COVID-19 patients in the state are mild and moderate and require lighter course of treatment.  Another strategy adopted by the government is to set up public spaces and facilities that can house mild and moderate COVID-19 patients, so that hospital beds can be allocated for those with severe COVID-19.

The treatment for COVID-19 in Tamil Nadu is based on the severity of the infection in a patient -- severe cases of COVID-19 are admitted to hospitals while moderate cases of the disease are sent to COVID-19 health centres. Mild cases of COVID-19 are treated at care centres while asymptomatic patients are treated at their own houses with strict isolation and home quarantine measures.

The only silver lining is that amidst Tamil Nadu crossing 50000 mark, the overall mortality rate is less than 1% and the r recovery rate is good, It is time that the  government must focus on  taking all the preventive measures and  keep the vulnerable populations safe,

In view of the rising number of COVID-19 positive cases in Chennai, the Tamil Nadu government has announced a further 12-day ‘complete lockdown’ in Chennai and certain parts of Chengalpattu, Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur districts between June 19 and 30.

But unlike, April lockdown which created panic buying by the general public and resulted in spreading the virus further, this time the government has announced in advance with sufficient grace time so that the people can comfortably stock the essential items.

It is time that the EPS government must pull up its socks and take preventive measures. Besides, the government must also take rigid actions against the callousness of some officials and trigger the government machineries in full throttle to ensure that safety returns to Chennai.



Other Blogs