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COVID-19 : Spiraling Cases in Chennai Point to Community Spread?

Neelambaran A |
Going by the definition of the community spread, Chennai seems to have reached this stage.
Chennai Point to Community Spread

Representational Image.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Tamil Nadu has seen a spike over the last one week, with a massive number of cases from Chennai. The delay in shutting the Koyambedu market, the biggest of its kind in Asia seems to be the major source for the spread. The community spread is evident as people from diverse backgrounds have contracted the infection.  Police personnel, mediapersons, staff of the AMMA canteen and AAVIN milk factory, all in Chennai, have tested positive for COVID-19

The last seven days (till May 5) saw 1,330 positive cases in Chennai, with only one day recording less than a hundred cases. In spite of the mammoth increase, the government still remains silent on the possibility of community spread. The corporation has requested the schools and wedding halls to hand over the infrastructure for emergency purposes.


The community spread is defined as, “the spread of a contagious disease to individuals in a particular geographic location who have no known contact with other infected individuals or who have not recently traveled to an area where the disease has any documented cases”.

Going by the definition of the community spread, Chennai seems to have reached this stage. But the administration refuses to acknowledge the threat. The last three days have seen 203, 206 and 279 cases in Chennai respectively while the overall tally in the state reaching 4,058.

Dr Jaya Prakash Muliyil, a leading epidemiologist, while speaking to NewsClick said, “This is expected during an epidemic. The lockdown was implemented to prevent human to human contact and has not yielded the desired result. So, a more scientific perspective to deal with the epidemic is required. The government needs to spend more on development of medical infrastructure to overcome this crisis.”

The total number of cases with travel history to the 295-acre Koyambedu market, housing more than 3,000 shops, has crossed 600. The infected people belong to multiple districts apart from Chennai. Most of the affected people are vendors, daily wage workers and their contacts. To make things more complex, the number of contacts of a person testing positive in Chennai is higher compared to the other regions of the state.


The state government was highly optimistic of containing the coronavirus spread after reduction of cases during the second week of April. But, Chennai has now emerged as the spoilsport with a spiralling number of cases.  Many district administrations have closed down the markets and decentralised them with different timings since after the imposition of the lockdown. But the Koyambedu market continued to function with huge crowds and no physical distancing followed.

The total lockdown announced in Chennai for four days, from April 26 to 29, also fuelled the rush to the market on April 25. Taking into consideration the 14-day incubation period, the city may witness a massive spike in the coming weeks.

The administration finally decided to close the market and shift it to Thirumazhisai on May 4. The  decision to shift has come quite late, even though enough space was available in the Chennai Metropolitan Bus Terminus (CMBT), also known as the Koyambedu bus stand.


The Chennai city has more positive cases than any other district and the Koyambedu market has played a role in manifolding the cases. Out of the 15 zones in the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC), seven zones have more than 100 active cases.

The data of GCC lists a total of 1,652 active cases, with 327 discharges until 8 am on May 6. So far, 20 people have also succumbed to the infection.

Dr Jaya Prakash added, “The cities including Chennai and Mumbai have entered the community transmission phase where the spread is going around [affecting] huge numbers. The time for containment is over and now we have to deal with the virus. The virus is now everywhere and people have to contribute more in containing further spread.”

The zone VI, Thiru Vi Ka Nagar has accounted for 341 cases. A street alone accounted for 56 cases from the region. The city needs rigorous testing since the density of population is high and the number of contacts of one positive case is high compared to other districts.


The daily bulletin released by the government of Tamil Nadu For May 4 and May 5 stated that ‘a large number of today’s cases are linked to Koyambedu Market’. The total positive cases reported were 527 and 508 respectively. The infection to visitors of the market is not restricted to just the neighbouring districts of Chennai alone.

The Cuddalore district, located around 200 km from Chennai reported 107 cases on May 4, most of whom had visited the market. The Permabalur and Ariyalur districts which are 300 km away have more cases from market visits. The people from these districts deliver vegetables to the Koyambedu market on a regular basis.

The lack of necessary preventive measures have resulted in such a spread. The continuing spike in cases even after more than 40 days of lockdown and short stints of total lockdowns have not succeeded in flattening the curve.

Also read: COVID-19 In Rural India-XXXIII: Villagers from Gijhi Fear Starvation of People, Cattle

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