With the second wave of the mass exodus of people from Chennai to their hometowns, other districts have not only witnessed the arrival of natives, but also COVID-19.
Soon after Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami on June 15 announced another intense lockdown in Chennai and neighbouring districts for 12 days from June 19, a lot of people, who had lost their livelihoods, started to travel back to their hometowns on motorcycles, cars and other vehicles.
Until then, districts other than Chennai, Tiruvallur, Chengalpattu and Kancheepuram had only a few active cases of COVID-19. Many districts had not reported even a single case in the past 14 days.
However, the uncontrolled migration of people from Chennai to other districts has led to an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in districts like Tiruvannamalai, Vellore, Ranipet, Cuddalore, Villupuram and Madurai.
According to the state health department data, the state had reported 44,661 COVID-19 cases until June 15. Six days after the lockdown announcement, the number increased to 59,377 on Sunday (June 21).
Of all districts, Tiruvannamalai has 50 per cent of its total 1,009 cases imported from various places, including Chennai. As of June 20, as many as 412 people, who had returned from Chennai, tested positive for the disease in the district. While 118 patients had returned from Mumbai, 109 came from districts in Tamil Nadu, other than Chennai.
On June 21, Tiruvannamalai district reported about 77 positive cases of COVID-19, of which 22 had returned from Chennai. A health official in Tiruvannamalai said the caseload in the district was increasing only because of Chennai returnees.
“If we had screened these people earlier, the secondary cases would have not increased. Since they were left unchecked in the district borders, the number of secondary cases is more than the primary ones,” the health official said. On June 14, Tiruvannamalai had 853 cases that rose to 1,040 on June 21.
In Ranipet and Vellore, the number of cases has doubled in the last one week, after the migration of people from Chennai to these districts. The number of cases in Ranipet and Vellore was 152 and 192 respectively until June 14. However, it increased to 470 and 477 on June 21.
“We did close our checkpoints. But there are a lot of other ways to enter Vellore as the National Highways passes through the district. So, we found it difficult to monitor the arrival of people,” said Vellore Collector A Shanmuga Sundaram.
“We have set up a checkpost along the border and are allowing only people with travel passes to other districts. We are strictly not approving the travel passes of people coming from Chennai,” he said.
Though the caseload was less than 500 in Vellore, the Collector has imposed restrictions in the city, allowing the opening of grocery stores and other standalone shops only three days a week.
On June 22, the administrations of Vellore, Ranipet, Tiruvannamalai and Villupuram districts were also planning for a complete shutdown as the number of cases kept rising. These districts are about 100-200 km far from Chennai.
Madurai administration has announced a week-long intense lockdown as the officials could not control the spread of the virus. According to sources, the lockdown would come to effect from June 23 midnight and continue until June 30. Similarly, officials in other districts too were contemplating a complete lockdown.
A senior official in the health department in Coimbatore said they had found that as many as 3,000 people from Chennai had entered the city illegally without getting travel passes.
“All the people have been placed in home quarantine and are being monitored continuously. Since these people were caught very recently, we don’t know how many have actually arrived from other districts, especially Chennai,” the official said.
Coimbatore Collector Rajamani said they had asked people in the district to report about persons who had returned from Chennai.
However, The Federal confirmed that the control room had received less than 10 calls and even those calls were only regarding the violation of home quarantine norms.