The Tamil Nadu government’s announcement of an intense lockdown in Chennai and adjoining districts reeling under the unabated spike in corona positive cases comes after days of rumours of it were denied at the highest level. Thankfully, the government has given people enough time to prepare, unlike the sudden announcement of the April 26-29 lockdown that triggered panic buying, resulting in the Koyembedu cluster.
Chennai alone has been roughly contributing to over 70-80 per cent of the statewide spike, along with the adjoining districts. The toll has also been alarming, touching 38 and 44 for two consecutive days. Last week, the Madras High Court posed searching questions, wondering why areas with high viral load have not been locked down. But the government parried it, saying it had no intention of imposing a fresh lockdown and its actions would be confined to intensive tracing and testing. A day later, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami scotched rumours about the lockdown on social media. But the fact remains that people living in these zones are being looked upon with suspicion elsewhere in the state, one reason why the government could have made the U-turn.
On the administration side, the state announced a major shake-up, appointing J Radhakrishnan as health secretary in place of Beela Rajesh. Radhakrishnan has earned the sobriquet of a disaster management specialist after having successfully carried out relief work in Nagapattinam as collector when the 2005 tsunami struck and having managed the 2015 floods in his earlier stint as health secretary. He was ushered into the COVID-19 battlefield on May 1 as special nodal officer for Chennai and was brought back as health secretary to devise out-of-the-box mechanisms about a month later.
He has been repeatedly making appeals for herd masking and social distancing, but has not found enough resonance on the streets. Just last week, the milling crowd in Kasimedu fishing harbour triggered fears of a repeat of the Koyembedu cluster. Radhakrishnan has his work cut out, since TN has the second highest caseload in India and the demand for hospital beds is going north. It is his task to flatten the curve.