How Koyambedu market became a COVID-19 super-spreader

With the shutting of Koyambedu market due to COVID-19, the lives of over 20,000 families of workers, and traders are in dire straits. | Image - Immayabharathi K

Panic gripped Inbaraj when the police took scores of daily wage labourers engaged in loading and unloading vegetables and fruits from Chennai’s Koyambedu market for COVID-19 testing in early May.

Since the lockdown was imposed on March 24, the scene at Asia’s largest perishable goods market had been scary. He has been striving hard for a meal. “Even drinking water suppliers avoided coming to Koyambedu fearing that they might contract the disease, leaving us high and dry,” he says.

In mid-April, Inbaraj and his co-workers ordered food from a restaurant run by their owner’s brother. But they never repeated it as each meal cost ₹100.

Despite knowing that he would soon go broke if he returned to his native village in Perambalur district, about 260 km away,  he set out on the arduous journey on foot, and after facing humiliation several times for turning his back on the city that gave him livelihood, he reached home two days later.

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