With many lockdown relaxations announced by the state government in Tamil Nadu, many cities have come alive, paving the way for frequent traffic congestions. With the third phase of the lockdown ending in three days, the next phase may see more activity in the state, the public transport system an exception. However, there has been a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases in the state over the past week, from 5,409 cases on May 7 to 9,674 cases on May 14. The week which began on May 8 added 4,265 cases to the state’s tally.
The viral infection continues to spread in Chennai, with the city reporting a total of 5,637 cases. Incidentally, the number of women affected by the novel coronavirus in Chennai is more than the corresponding tally in all other districts. Mental health issues of medical workers fighting COVID-19 continue to be largely neglected.
Chennai tops list, Koyambedu cases registers spike
The last week saw an addition of 2,978 COVID-19 cases in Chennai, the total number being 5,637 in the capital city. Its neighbouring districts of Tiruvallur and Chengalpet complete the list of top three districts with the highest number of cases, with 495 and 430 respectively. Cuddalore and Ariyalur districts are next, with the majority of the cases from Koyambedu market. Coimbatore, Erode and Tirupur were COVID-19 free as of May 14. However, the Member of Parliament (MP) from Coimbatore, P.R. Natarajan, has raised doubts on the number of tests conducted in his constituency
Over the past week, the state reported less than 500 cases in a day only once on May 14, while the maximum number of 798 cases was reported on May 11. The number of people who have succumbed to the novel coronavirus also saw a jump, with 29 deaths reported this week, increasing the total death toll to 66.
The special officer for COVID-19 containment in the state, Dr. J. Radha Krishnan advised the public to not panic earlier this week and justified the high testing in Chennai for an increase in the number of cases.
Nine out of 15 regions in the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) have more than two hundred cases, with Kodambakam and Royapuram accounting for more than 700 cases each.
Mental health of medical workers
Health workers have been forced to fight mental health issues along with the pandemic. Doctors and nurses who have been under quarantine after working in the COVID-19 wards have been faced with immense stress. The fear of contracting the infection and transmitting it to parents and children at home has taken a toll.
The government has started providing psychiatric counselling through digital platforms to overcome the trauma arising out of isolation and fear. The abysmal quarantine facilities also added to the agony of the workers in the early stages, and conditions have improved marginally.
The social stigma they face from the public is also affecting their mental health. The nurses working in COVID-19 wards were harassed by their landlords in Madurai recently. Only after the administration intervened were they were permitted to stay in their rented houses.
Phased relaxation recommended
The expert committee set up by the government of Tamil Nadu has recommended phased relaxations and an increase in testing. While details are yet to be announced, the government has already permitted 34 different business activities to resume from May 11. This has resulted in the public coming out in large numbers, defying physical distancing norms. The state with the second highest number of cases in the country is yet to make the wearing of masks mandatory.
Chennai, Madurai, Trichy and Coimbatore witnessed people rushing onto the roads, resulting in traffic jams in many places. Shopping centres in Chennai like T. Nagar and Broadway have started to open shops, but with the lack of public transport and incomes dwindling due to the lockdown, customers have been hard to find. These streets, where walking through crowds was once a task, wore a deserted look.
Five hundred health inspectors appointed
The government has appointed 500 health inspectors on contract basis in the GCC for a duration of three months. The new appointees will be paid a consolidated salary of Rs 15,000 per month. The city has seen a massive spike in cases and the appointments are aimed at improving the state machinery to strengthen the workforce. Only 20 of the newly appointed staff have begun work so far.
However, the policy of appointing workers on contract basis continues in the state. A majority of the sanitation workers in the GCC are on contract, leaving them low on both wages and preventive measures, even during a health emergency.
Instead of shoring up medical infrastructure and increasing the permanent workforce, the state government is resorting to contract appointments, affecting several lakhs of youth who have been awaiting government jobs. The priority of the government seems to be to reduce expenditure rather than strengthening public health.