New cases of COVID-19, while more or less in the same range in Kancheepuram, Thiruvallur, Chengalpattu and Chennai, have been on the rise in other districts.

TN districts bear brunt of Lockdown 60 and Unlock 10 as cases risePTI
Coronavirus Coronavirus Tuesday, June 23, 2020 - 20:07

Tamil Nadu, over the past few days, has been consistently reporting over 2,000 fresh cases of COVID-19. Usually, the state has witnessed a rise in cases from Chennai and surrounding districts. This time, however, the infection has spread farther — the numbers reported out of the state capital and nearby regions have remained more or less the same over the past week, indicating that the rest of Tamil Nadu is reporting higher numbers of COVID-19 patients with each passing day.

TNM analysed the data of new COVID-19 cases between June 14 and June 21 and discovered that though the total number of new cases reported in the state is steadily on the rise with occasional ‘slumps’, the number of cases reported from the four hotspot districts — Kancheepuram, Thiruvallur, Chengalpattu and Chennai (KTCC) — has been more or less the same.

However, the number of cases reported from districts other than KTCC is increasing by the day.

COVID-19 rise in non-KTCC districts

For example, on June 18, Tamil Nadu reported 2,141 new cases of COVID-19, of which 1,666 were from KTCC districts. Other districts accounted for 454 new cases, which is 21.21% of the cases reported on that day.

On June 19, while Tamil Nadu reported 2,115 new cases of COVID-19 with 1,542 cases recorded in KTCC districts, 556 cases came from the rest of Tamil Nadu. This is 26.29% of the new cases reported on June 19.

Similarly on June 20, of the 2,396 new cases reported in the state, 707 were from districts other than KTCC, accounting for almost 30% of the caseload of that day.

Of the 2,532 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Tamil Nadu on June 21, 725 were from districts other than Kancheepuram, Thiruvallur, Chengalpattu and Chennai. This accounted for almost 29% of the total new cases on that day.

Among the other districts, Tiruvannamalai has reported 453 new cases overall between June 14 and June 21, the highest in the state after Chennai, Chengalpattu, Thiruvallur and Kancheepuram.

Madurai (342 new cases), Vellore (322 new cases), Ranipet (283 new cases), Cuddalore (255 new cases) and Ramanathapuram (221 new cases) are the other districts which reported a sharp rise in the number of new COVID-19 patients.

To put this in context, on June 1, Tamil Nadu reported that 1,162 persons were newly diagnosed with COVID-19, of which 964 cases were from Chennai, 48 from Chengalpattu, 33 from Thiruvallur and nine from Kancheepuram. On the same day, Thiruvannamalai reported 10 new cases, Vellore reported three, Ranipet reported five, Ramanathapuram reported two and Cuddalore reported one new case of COVID-19. Madurai did not have any fresh case of COVID-19 on June 1.

The KTCC districts accounted for nearly 91% of the fresh COVID-19 cases reported on June 1.

The steady rise in the number of cases being reported from across the state, particularly in the non-KTCC districts, raises several questions about the sources of these cases and the reasons behind the sharp spike.

Impact of complete lockdown?

The government of Tamil Nadu announced a 12-day lockdown from June 19 to June 30 in Chennai district and parts of Kancheepuram, Thiruvallur and Chengalpattu. The decision to impose a lockdown in these areas was taken after over 1,000 new COVID-19 cases were reported every day from this region from at least June 1.

This announcement, made on June 15, gave ample window for many living in Chennai and its surrounding areas to pack their bags and leave to their hometowns due to various reasons from lack of an income source to fear of infection. Toll plazas at Paranur, on the Nagapattinam-Chennai highway, saw massive traffic jams during this period, owing to vehicles with people leaving the capital city to their hometowns.

As per data provided to TNM by a senior Health Department official in Tiruvannamalai, 690 persons have entered the district from Chennai between June 13 and June 21. 57 persons from other districts, 67 persons from other states and one person from abroad have entered the district between June 13 and June 21. The officer attributes the increase in the number of cases in the district to this mass influx of people from Chennai.

“Definitely this is one of the major reasons why we are seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases reported from Tiruvannamalai. The news of the lockdown in Chennai, though was officially announced on June 15, was doing the rounds on WhatsApp since a few days before June 15. Hence, people started applying for e-passes and travelling to their hometowns early on and this is causing a spike in the number of cases,” the officer said.

Effect of ‘Unlock 1.0’

On the other hand, the relaxations provided in the movement of people between districts in the same zone since June 1 has also appeared to contribute to the rise in the number of cases reported from districts.

Tamil Nadu has been divided into eight zones for purposes of transportation and since June 1, the state government has been operating government buses within the zones. The government scrapped the mandatory e-pass requirement for those travelling between any two or more districts within the same zone.

TG Vinay, the Madurai district collector, told TNM that this inter-district movement of people is also one of the major reasons for the rise in the number of new cases in Madurai.

“When people come from Dindigul to Madurai without a pass, we don’t know if they are really from Dindigul or if they reached Dindigul from some place else. Since we don’t know the travel history of the person, they will not be under our radar till they develop symptoms, usually. Thus, cases increase,” he explained.

Universal testing and community support

To combat this spike in new cases of COVID-19, district administrations from across the state have resorted to a multi-pronged approach. Madurai and Tiruvannamalai districts are testing every person entering the district from the KTCC region.

“We have also restricted issuing e-pass for those coming in from these areas into our district. Restricting movement of people seems to be working well to contain the spread of infection,” Vinay added. The decision to impose a seven-day lockdown from June 24 in Madurai Corporation limits and adjoining areas seems to have stemmed from this strategy.

“In this lockdown period, our goal is to screen each and every household to find out and keep track of persons with fever. Apart from the officials, we have around 1,500 volunteers who will go to every house and track if they have fever or other symptoms. We aim to do this exercise twice during this lockdown,” he added.

In Tiruvannamalai, the district has roped in the services of Village Vigilance Committees, a group of people in localities working in tandem with district officials, to inform the administration if anybody enters from outside the locality.

“We have also requested the public to keep an eye out for outsiders in their areas and inform us so that we can test them or ask them to be on home quarantine as required,” the senior officer from the district’s Health Department explained. 

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