CHENNAI: There is a time and place for everything, even theft. When the police saw 19-year-old Akash riding carefree on a motorbike Friday morning, they stopped him for violating the lockdown. Akash did not stop.
He dodged the police standing near Spencer Plaza and managed to get as far as till the Gemini Flyover -- a good three kilometres away. He was caught finally, and then it came to light that Akash had stolen the bike.
Akash’s incident is just one of the many that kept the police busy on Friday, the first day of lockdown. Within hours of shutting the city down, a whopping 2,436 people were booked for violating the lockdown.
A total of 1,997 vehicles were seized -- 1,883 two-wheelers and 47 four-wheelers. Close to a thousand people were booked for not wearing masks and for not maintaining the social distance. Most of these cases were in the northern parts of the city where Covid cases are high -- especially in Royapuram, Tondiarpet, and Vyasarpadi.
While the logic behind it is entirely not clear, the city police commissioner yet again requested people to walk to shops and not use their vehicles. While travelling from one area to another must be avoided to contain the spread, walking increases chances of transmission among pedestrians.
The top-cop also asked people to buy essentials for an entire week at once instead of stepping out often. While the job of the police is to restrict people to their homes, the city corporation will play a key role after that.
The Action Plan
The next 12 days are crucial in the battle against COVID-19, says corporation commissioner G Prakash. At a time when reports are doing rounds of even family members of patients not being tested, Prakash has given some hope by saying that his ground staff would go door to door screening for fever and symptoms. He requested the people not to hide any symptoms.
"You may have only a slight throat infection, or breathing trouble, or even a slight cold. But, if you say the symptoms we can identify and treat easily. Had we tested them early, maybe we could have saved their lives," Prakash says adding that the corporation’s death register is a testimony to the fact that many patients hid their symptoms.
The corporation staff have been equipped with thermal guns to screen body temperature, and pulse oximetres to check oxygen and pulse levels. "If the oxygen saturation is below 95, the patient may be taken to a government hospital, a care centre, or a private hospital of choice," he said.
The corporation has appointed 4,000 volunteers to check on patients in home quarantine. "One volunteer has been assigned to every 10-15 streets. This person will take care of distributing essentials among other things," Prakash said. This is a good time to conduct a fever survey as most people would be at home.
Trouble in districts
Several districts in the Western and Central region are witnessing a spike in cases following the exodus from Chennai. Since air travel was restarted on May 25, a total of 106 passengers who arrived in Coimbatore have tested positive for Covid. A good number of them are from Chennai.
A total of 51 patients with Covid symptoms were admitted to hospitals in Coimbatore. In Salem, of the 18 fresh cases Friday 12 had links in Chennai.
In Tiruchy, a house surgeon and a sonologist working at the MGMGH, the largest government hospital in the district, were among 11 people who tested positive on Friday. This is the first case of a doctor testing positive at the MGMGH, and sources say that the practitioner was treating a pregnant COVID-19 woman, which could have been the source of transmission. Meanwhile, a lab technician in Sivaganga also tested positive on Friday. She is the third technician to test positive, apart from two doctors.
Madurai witnessed its highest single-day spike with 58 cases being reported. Five deaths were registered at the GRH. In Virudhunagar, officials are blaming their Madurai counterparts for the spike in cases.
A traveller from Chennai who arrived at Madurai airport in the last week of May was allegedly allowed to leave for Virudhunagar after testing, without any quarantine. Sources say the passenger did not enter the district through proper channel.
A family member went on bike and picked the person up. As there was no baggage, he entered without any suspicion. The person tested positive a few days later. In June, a 14-year-old primary contact of the patient too tested positive. With people from Chennai already having left for their hometown, it’s likely the virus too has travelled to places far and wide.
Despite the influx causing a spike in cases, there could be more citizens stranded abroad in different countries returning home in the days to come. On Friday, the Centre informed the Madras High Court that out of the 40,433 repatriation requests received from Indian nationals abroad to return home to Tamil Nadu, 14,065 have returned while 26,368 are yet to be brought back. Thousands of people have been approaching embassies abroad requesting to be evacuated.
While the Centre has issued Standard Operating Procedures to bring them back, Opposition party DMK has alleged that the State government was not issuing permits for those aircraft to land here. Their return, it’s feared, will add to the burden on the State healthcare system. Will this unleash a fresh round of cases, or will the officials succeed in containing the outbreak. The next few days hold the key to that question.
The Test Match
While experts keep expressing dissatisfaction with the number of tests being conducted, data released by the State government on Friday shows that Tamil Nadu tests more people per million than the entire country. Within the State, Chennai leads in testing by a big margin followed by Southern districts of Theni, Nellai, Kumari and Nilgiris
(With inputs from Tiruchy, Madurai, Coimbatore and Sivaganga)