On Monday, the Tamil Nadu government accepted in the Madras High Court that the number of coronavirus cases in the state are likely to increase further in the coming months. Though this admission was meant to explain their stance on conducting class 10 board exams, what it actually pointed to was circumstances that residents of the state will have to prepare for when restrictions are further lifted.
A reality that is already evident in the state secretariat which has become a hotspot after the decision to allow 50% of staff to work in the premises at any given time.
According to the state secretariat employees' association, the secretariat currently has 6400 employees who have been coming in buses arranged by the government to work every day. And while only 33% of the staff were told to come at any point of time from March 24, three weeks ago on May 18, the number was increased to 50%.
Sources in the secretariat say that while only 8 staff members were initially affected during the first two lockdowns, the number has increased to over 40 in the last three weeks. 250 staff members who were in contact with infected persons have further been tested on Monday and numbers are expected to touch 100, staff tell TNM.
"Three IAS officers have also tested positive and one of them has returned to work. There are two problems - one is that there is no space for physical distancing in the department. The finance department for instance is packed and under regular circumstances, officials have adjusted to this but now after COVID-19, they can't remain in this situation," says a source in the secretariat. "In addition to this there are outsiders also coming in," he adds.
Following the spike in infections, Peter Antonysamy, the president of the state secretariat employees' association wrote to Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami requesting that the number of employees working at any point of time, be brought back to 33%.
"In the last few weeks, close to 40 staff in the secretariat have tested positive for COVID-19 from various departments. They have been isolated at various hospitals and quarantine centres across the city.There is a danger of those affected having spread the virus to those they work with, their families or those they travel with. In order to prevent further transmission we request you to allow only 33% of employees to work as opposed to 50%," stated the letter.
Sources in the CMO further told TNM, that the matter was brought to the cabinet's notice and that top ministers are considering working in rotation at the secretariat themselves to prevent infection. Currently the health, revenue and disaster and Chief Minister's officer, is working in full strength to manage the coronavirus pandemic.