TNM speaks to District Collector C Kathiravan and Superintendent of Police S Sakthi Ganesan to understand how the district administration worked to overcome the hurdles that COVID-19 posed.

Erode turns green zone after no new cases for 28 daysErode SP (Left) and District Collector (Right)
Coronavirus Interview Wednesday, May 13, 2020 - 09:59

As Tamil Nadu continues to reel under more and more new COVID-19 cases in the last few days, Erode district completes 28 days without reporting a new case on Wednesday, thus moving into the green zone. 

The district in total reported 70 cases of COVID-19 till Tuesday, of which 69 patients were discharged successfully on recovery. One patient died while undergoing treatment. TNM speaks to District Collector C Kathiravan and Superintendent of Police S Sakthi Ganesan to understand how the district administration worked to overcome the hurdles that COVID-19 posed. 

Erode - The early hotspot

The spotlight fell early on the district as the first two cases of what would later become the ‘Tablighi Jamaat cluster’ were reported from Erode on March 21. 

“We actually got information about this group on March 16 when a few of them tried to fly back to Thailand from Coimbatore. So by the night of March 16, we had traced those six Thai nationals and brought them back to Erode. We isolated them and put them all under institutional quarantine. Swab tests were conducted on all six of them,” Kathiravan says. 

The district administration swung into action immediately to trace whoever had come into contact with these six nationals and within 48 hours, the primary and secondary contacts, numbering around 280 in total, were all traced and brought under institutional quarantine. 

Due to the district reporting cases in bunches in late March and early April, the district was dubbed as the ‘Tamil Nadu’s Wuhan’ by detractors to indicate that it was a hotspot for infections. By April 15, the district had reported 70 cases of COVID-19. That was also the last date of a new case reported from Erode. 

Institutional quarantine mandatory

A distinct feature of Erode district’s COVID-19 management strategy was to house all primary and secondary contacts of COVID-19 positive patients in institutional quarantine. 

“We did not allow them to be under home quarantine in any circumstances. It was crucial for us to have detected a high number of cases initially,” explains Sakthi Ganesan, adding that it was because of the district’s decision to house all the family members and secondary contacts of positive patients, irrespective of the presence of symptoms, in designated quarantine facilities that a community spread was averted in Erode.

COVID-19 patients were also allowed to order in the food of their choice, which was delivered to their wards if they did not like the hospital food. 

‘Working with travellers list challenging’

When the district administration realised that the two Thai nationals who had tested positive on March 21 were preachers and had reached Erode from Delhi, they worked on sourcing passenger lists from railways from as early as February. The scrutiny was however focussed on those who had travelled in three particular trains — Nizamuddin express, Kongu Express and Kerala Express —  between March 15 and March 23. 

"Detailed lists from the Railways list were prepared by our own teams and we also sent relevant information to our neighbouring districts. From that, we isolated all those people to institutions like schools, colleges and kalyana mandapams,” Sakthi Ganesan explains. In a span of two days, which the workers took to trace all 280+ travellers, 27 persons tested positive for COVID-19. 

“You can only imagine what would have happened if we had delayed it (tracing and isolating),” he adds. 

Safety of frontline and essential service providers

Since Erode initially had a spurt of cases, around 18 zones were marked as containment zones. In these zones, the administration made sure that all facilities like vegetables, groceries, ATMs and even clinics were made available at the doorsteps of the residents so that the movement is restricted. 

“Erode has one big vegetable market — Nethaji vegetable market — which has around 500 sellers. We moved them all to the central bus stand, since it is a spacious area and told them to not come to sell their vegetables if they have a fever or a cold. We also arranged 150 moving vegetable shops in the Corporation area alone, so that people don’t have to travel till the market. Thus we prevented crowding in market places,” Kathiravan explains. 

Erode district has around 2,500 police personnel on duty including home guards and traffic wardens who were given sensitivity training to work ‘with’ the public during the lockdown and that a strong, rough reaction to law-breaking will only make things worse. 

“We made sure that all of my men were subjected to medical checkups and screening regularly. We also ensured that healthy food is provided to them from community kitchens. We ordered them not to accept food or anything from volunteers or anybody from outside,” Sakthi Ganesan points out. He also adds that Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) kits were provided to those who were posted on duty in containment zones and in COVID-19 wards and isolation centres. 

Medical insurance for migrant workers

Erode, a highly industrialised district, has around 25000 workers from different states of India like Jharkhand, Bihar, Assam, etc. When migrant workers across the country were trying to walk back to their native states, Erode District Collector says that their proactive measures ensured that these workers were safe. 

“When we decided to shut down companies, we called all business owners and took an undertaking from them to provide food, shelter, facilities, and medical insurance to all the migrant workers employed in their units,” Kathiravan explains. 

Dedicated police officials and nodal officers were also put in charge of ensuring the welfare of these workers wherever they were staying. 

“We told them that even if they tried to move out of Erode, they would be held back in some other district or in some camps and that they cannot really reach home. We told them that all arrangements will be made and they will be taken care of well. We also told the employers that in regular times they (migrant labourers) worked for you, now it is time you step up for them. We made sure they were all medically insured as well,” adds Sakthi Ganesan, quipping that Dish TV and Netflix subscriptions also helped to keep them entertained and occupied. 

When questioned about the Koyambedu cluster in Erode, Kathiravan says that only one positive case has been reported from the district, which comes under the Koyambedu source. “Strict monitoring in the district borders has helped us achieve this,” he says. 

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