Blaming reluctance of vegetable vendors of Koyambedu market here to move out as a major reason for the spread of COVID-19 in Tamil Nadu, Chief Minister K Palaniswami on Wednesday (May 13) indicated that the ongoing lockdown could be lifted “gradually” depending on peoples cooperation.
He also attributed the high spike in daily virus numbers in the recent days to increased testing of samples and asked people not to panic, citing views of experts that the pandemic will “slightly go up” before declining.
As on Wednesday (May 13), Tamil Nadu has reported a total of 9,227 coronavirus cases with 64 fatalities. The sprawling wholesale campus at Koyambedu has turned out to be a super spreader of the coronavirus with the number of positive cases in otherwise low prevalence districts like Cuddalore seeing a sharp rise in recent days after people from there travelled to the market.
The market, which houses nearly 4,000 shops and employing around 20,000, has since been closed and shifted to a temporary facility at the suburban Thirumazhisai. Palaniswami said the numbers in several districts had gone up due to Koyambedu market which also contributed to the spike in this city, which tops the list with over 4,000 cases.
Chairing a review meeting of district collectors and other officials to take stock of COVID-19 prevention activities at the Secretariat here, he also said the state was bearing the cost incurred on sending guest workers stranded in Tamil Nadu to their native states by special trains. In his opening remarks, he listed out his governments various efforts to ensure people did not suffer during the lockdown and had access to essential items.
“People should extend total cooperation (to the government).. depending on the kind of cooperation extended by you, the lockdown can be withdrawn gradually,” he said. Tamil Nadu is one of the worst affected states in the country by the deadly virus with the number of cases standing in excess of 9,000. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on Tuesday said there will be a fourth phase of the lockdown, which will be very different from the earlier three phases. The third is scheduled to end on May 17.
Later, in his concluding address to the bureaucrats, the chief minister spoke in detail about the Koyambedu episode. He recalled that the first round of talks between officials of Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) and market representatives was held as early as on March 19 when they were asked to shift sighting the crowd, but they did not accept the idea.
Subsequent rounds of meetings were held between government and the representatives, some even chaired by his deputy O Panneerselvam to break the deadlock, but the vendors were firm on not moving out fearing losing business, Palaniswami said, adding even basic precautions like wearing masks was not adhered to by many there.
“So, the government held many rounds of talks with the traders. But ths issue (of spread) arose because they were firm that shifting will affect their business,” he said. “Now, because many from Koyambedu had travelled to other districts, the number of infected there (in those places) has gone up. This is the reason for the spike in cases in Chennai also,” he said. Finally, following a major spread, the market was closed with the concurrence of the stakeholders and has been functioning at Thirumazhisai from May 10, he said.
On Chennai topping the list of positive cases, he said the density of population, especially in narrow alleys and streets, was a significant contributing factor. Referring to sending back guest workers stranded in the state, he said the Tamil Nadu government was footing the bill involved in the operation of trains.
While a large number of people have been sent home so far, the others would also get their chance to return in the coming days, based on availability of trains, he said and asked them to remain patient till then. Palaniswami also stressed on intensified testing of lorry drivers and workers entering Tamil Nadu from other states.
He said efforts by his government have resulted in people having access to essential items while it was also reaching out to various sections of the society like guest workers, destitutes and the poor through distribution of dry ration as well as providing food through Amma Canteens and community kitchens.
Seeking to give a fillip to economic activities, the government had set up a high-powered committee (under the Chief Secretary) to attract businesses “moving out of certain countries,” he recalled and pointed out at the resumption of various industries to benefit the working class. Further, due to the coordinated efforts of various arms of the government, including the medical professionals, the pandemic was under control, he said, adding Tamil Nadu had the lowest death rate of 0.67 per cent while its discharge rate stood at 27 percent. Even those undergoing treatment in hospitals will soon return home and the government was with them, he added.