On Monday, March 23, the Tamil Nadu government announced a total shutdown of the state till March 31 from Tuesday evening. Meanwhile. the number of COVID-19 positive cases in the state continued to increase, reaching nine cases till Monday. An order released by the government announced the shutdown of public and private transport, cars, autos and taxis. However, no announcement have been made as far as relief measures for the public are concerned. Another detailed order is expected to be announced by the government late in the evening.
The short time period given to the public to face the week-long blockade will set the prices of essential commodities shooting. The lack of any measures to ensure essential services may create panic and force the public to pile up stocks.
The notification released claimed the action to be initiated as a part to improve social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The government invoked ‘The Epidemic Disease Act, 1897’ to announce the closure of state borders and district borders. District magistrates and police heads have been instructed to implement section 144 of the Indian Penal Code to prevent mass gatherings. Interstate services were already suspended as the borders with Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh remain closed for the public. All passenger rail and metro services will also remain shut.
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Essential services including revenue, police, health, sanitation and others including milk, vegetables, groceries, meat and fish shops would be permitted to function as per the notification released. However, despite the notification, the possibilities of large-scale hoarding and escalated pricing is a high probability now, especially if the government is not proactive in ensuring that panic buying does not grip the public. Among other relaxations are food deliveries. The ‘AMMA Canteens’, offering breakfast and lunch at subsidised cost would be kept open during the lockdown period.
The announcement ordering the payment of wages to construction workers not reporting to work is a welcome one. But, no mechanism to check the execution of this order has been put in place so far. The status of other unorganised workers including the agricultural workers, street vendors, small shopkeepers are also under the cloud.
The state witnessed a complete lockdown on Sunday as part of the janata curfew called by the Prime Minister. However, gatherings of appreciation took place after 5 p.m.
Politicians Set Wrong Precedent
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaiswami, himself, set a wrong precedent by participating in a gathering of more than 50 people. Puducherry Governor Kiran Bedi joined the bandwagon in the company of Raj Bhavan officials by applauding and banging plates. The very essence of social distancing was violated in many places. Some police officials reportedly entered a hospital in Kovilpatti in Virudhunagar district and instructed the inpatients to take part in the appreciation process.
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The urban middle class took a step further by gathering in large numbers in the apartment complexes carrying national flags, ringing bells and banging plates. These acts of over-enthusiastic citizens may have enhanced the danger of a community spread, undoing the effect of the day-long curfew. The reason behind this lack of awareness about the impending danger of COVID-19, even among the educated masses, may be a result of the lackadaisical attitude of officials and government in doing so.
Daily Wage Workers to Suffer Most
The lockdown of industrial districts including Kancheepuram, Tirupur, Coimbatore, Tiruvallur is set to have a severe impact on the livelihoods of the workers. Hyundai Motors announced the closure of the manufacturing unit while the textile manufacturers in Tirupur have suspended all operations till March 31. With this, the migrant, contract and casual workers are set to suffer the impact the most.
On Sunday, migrant workers mostly from Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh without any assurance of job and food, held a protest in front of the Chennai Central railway station. They demanded the operation of trains enabling them to go back to their hometowns. The district administration has decided to quarantine around 2,000 workers who took part in the protest. The trains and buses that left Chennai on Saturday night were crowded as many of the workers left the city owing to loss of work. With no announcements made both by the Union and state governments on the relief measures for the workers, they have been left in the lurch with fears about their very survival in the coming weeks.