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TN This Week: Court, State and EC Play ‘Blame Game’ as COVID-19 Care Slips Out of Hand

Following the spike in COVID-19 cases following Tamil Nadu Assembly polls on April 6, the Madras High Court has also taken an interest in the pandemic situation, however, this has not been received well by the Election Commission and the state government.
TN this week.

Tamil Nadu witnessed a steady spike in COVID-19 cases this week. The daily fresh tally was 14,842 in the beginning of the week and it touched 18,692 on Friday, April 30.

TN Cases

Image credit: Prakash R

Taking into account the steady surge in cases, the state government on April 29 extended night curfew, Sunday lockdowns and other restrictions ‘until further orders’.

But, a lack of clarity on how to deal with the pressure on the health system is reportedly creating a mess in the state. A rush for oxygen, Remdesivir medicine, beds, vaccines and R-PCR tests is creating havoc in the state.

Following the spike in COVID-19 cases following Tamil Nadu Assembly polls on April 6, the Madras High Court has also taken an interest in the pandemic situation, however, this has not been received well by the Election Commission and the state government.

HEALTH SYSTEM PUSHES ITS LIMITS

The Tamil Nadu health system seems to be stretching itself thin to provide healthcare for COVID-19 patients, especially in expanding oxygen beds. Simultaneously, the health secretary J Radhakrishnan has asked district administrators and health officials to ramp up testing and improve contract tracing.

The positivity rate is the highest in Chennai, 20 of every 100 people tested were found to be positive, and Greater Chennai Corporation has claimed to be taking steps to tackle the situation. The Corporation is increasing the number of both oxygen and non-oxygen beds in state-run hospitals. It also added nine new screening centres to the existing 12 centres in the city.

MEASURES NOT MEETING NEED

However, with the official number of active cases in the state rising above 1.3 lakh, Tamil Nadu’s healthcare measures do not seem to suffice.

As in most parts of the country, there is a shortage of beds and staff in Tamil Nadu. The steep increase in cases has also affected the mental well-being of healthcare workers; those infected with the virus and discharged patients suffer from a similar situation. Read More

Meanwhile, oxygen suppliers are reportedly unable to procure the liquid gas for hospitals as demand has overshoot supply. Read More

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People waiting outside Kilpauk Medical College to purchase Remdesivir medicine

The demand for antiviral drug Remdesivir skyrocketed over the past week. Though the Tamil Nadu government has clarified that it is not a mandatory drug, continued prescriptions lead to rush at the Kilpauk Medical College in Chennai.

Staff at crematoriums are also beginning to see a jump in the number of bodies they handle every day.

NO VACCINE LEFT EVEN FOR 2ND DOSE

With the steady surge in COVID-19 cases, the daily turn out for vaccines has increased. The added shortage of vaccines, particularly of Covaxin, for those who require their second doses, has strained the system. Reports of having to wait for several hours outside the vaccine centres are visible across the state.

Till April 30, 12.94 lakh people in Tamil Nadu have received both doses of vaccine and 31.80 lakh people are waiting for their second dose.

As per the Directorate of Public Health on April 30, the state had 6.69 lakh doses of vaccine — 5.20 lakh doses of Covishield and 1.49 lakh doses of Covaxin.

GOVERNMENT CONFUSED

A day before Phase III of the vaccination drive was to begin, incorporating the 18 to 45 years age group, the Tamil Nadu government said that it won't be able to begin the next phase on May 1 due to lack of vaccine stock.

Notably, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami had claimed only two days prior to the above announcement that “vaccines would be provided free of cost to people in the age group of 18 to 45”.

The state government on April 28 issued orders to procure 1.50 crore doses of COVID-19 vaccines through the Tamil Nadu Medical Services Corporation.

The announcement of procurement comes days after CM Palaniswami wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 26 against the differential price for states and the Centre in vaccine procurement. He had demanded measures from the Centre to procure and supply the entire required quantity of vaccine.

MADRAS HC TAKES UPPER HAND

The Madras HC heard a suo motu case on April 26 concerning the management of the COVID-19 situation in Tamil Nadu.

The court suggested a lockdown on May 1 and 2 to prevent a surge in cases during vote-counting. However, the government declined the suggestion saying that May 2, counting day, is anyway a Sunday and lockdown will be in place. May 1 is May Day and thereby a holiday.

Advocate General Vijay Narayan further said that a complete lockdown on May 1 would also affect the next phase of COVID-19 vaccination, in which all above 18 years of age would be covered. It should be noted that Phase III vaccination drive did not begin.

ATTACKING ELECTION COMMISSION

Making a scathing attack on the Election Commission for failure to maintain COVID-19 protocol during poll campaigns, the Madras HC on April 26 said the EC “should be put up on murder charges…for being the most irresponsible institution”.

On the other hand, following widespread media reportage of the ‘murder charges’ observation, the Chief Electoral Officer at Tamil Nadu, Satyabrata Sahoo moved the Madras HC to direct media houses to refrain from reporting on oral observations and report only on observations recorded in orders or judgments. He highlighted that the said oral observation was not finally recorded in the order passed that day.

The court on April 30 refused to restrain the media from publishing oral observations made by the court and once again blamed the EC for the surge in COVID-19 cases.

EC’s press note on April 27 highlighted that it is not responsible for curbing COVID-19 spread and for enforcing the Disaster Management Act. The note read, "The enforcement under 2005 Act has to be ensured by the concerned SDMA, and notified authorities... At no occasion, the Commission takes over the task of SDMA (State Disaster Management Authority) for enforcement of COVID-19 instructions.”

‘GENERATE VACCINE IN PSU HLL BIOTECH’

TN1

A protest was held under the leadership of Confederation of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) outside the public sector HLL Biotech in Chengalpattu on April 30 demanding that it be made functional. The Integrated Vaccine Complex is said to have a potential to produce a massive amount of vaccines, upto around 55 crore.

There has been continued pressure from the employees, trade unions, Left parties and their MPs to make the unit fully functional. Union Minister Harsh Vardhan had also visited the plant in January and assured that the plant would begin full operations after consulting Prime Minister Modi, but to no avail.

PROTESTS AGAINST OPENING STERLITE COPPER

An all-party meeting convened by CM Palaniswami on April 26 unanimously resolved to temporarily allow Vedanta’s sealed Sterlite copper smelter plant in Thoothukudi to produce medical oxygen for four months.

The Anti-Sterlite People’s Confederation submitted a petition to the district Collector on April 28 demanding the State government to change its decision to open the plant. The confederation feels that the move is nothing but a stepping stone to open the copper smelter through the back door.

April 29 was declared a Black Day in Thoothukudi opposing the Supreme Court and Tamil Nadu government’s decision to reopen the copper smelting plant. A protest was also staged outside the district collector’s office.

ACTOR SIDDHARTH ALLEGES DEATH THREAT FROM BJP

Popular southern actor Siddharth tweeted that his phone number was leaked by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and that he and his family have been receiving abusive and threatening calls since.

Hinting that he is targetted for being vocal and critical of the ruling party in the Centre, he added, “I will not shut up. Keep Trying,”and mentioned the official Twitter handles of PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.

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Commenting on this, BJP’s Tamil Nadu IT Wing President Nirmal Kumar told NewsClick, “We do not respond to individuals, but because actor Siddharth has mentioned the BJP IT Wing in his tweet, we are forced to respond. Sharing numbers is a cheap activity, we condemn it. We have inquired and no known person of BJP has done it.” He, however, referred to such a possibility in the lower ranks of the party, saying, “number circulation is common, it happens in the low ranks of other parties also.”

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