The expert medical committee appointed by the state government to offer a roadmap on containing the spread of COVID-19 had advised the Chief Minister against opting for another lockdown. However, Tamil Nadu’s decision to go ahead with yet another extension of the intensive lockdown until July 5 is bewildering.
Closer home in Chennai, the rise in the number of cases indicates a similar trend. While the containment was reasonably effective initially and helped in stringent tracking and isolating of patients and their kin, the virus continues to spread through cracks in the system. As is evident now, the zones with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Greater Chennai Corporation limits including Tondiarpet, Royapuram, Teynampet, Kodambakkam and Anna Nagar, have some of the most congested neighbourhoods in the city while the zones with more IT parks and large industries remain comparatively less affected.
There are ample reasons to believe that the coronavirus did not spread because people travelled to work or other places – but because they failed to wear masks, maintain social distancing and practise frequent hand hygiene – when they stepped out of homes to chat with a neighbour or walked up to the nearest grocery shop to buy essentials. No lockdown can prevent such transmission and that is what the government must consider addressing.
The ban on mass gatherings, public transport systems like metro rail, MTC besides malls and theatres need to continue, but people need to be encouraged to return to work and their normal life while adhering to precautions. COVID-19 is no longer the mysterious disease that it was purported a few months ago. It is well-established that the virus spread is largely airborne and wearing masks can bring down the spread, and even if one does get infected, reduce the viral load significantly. Coupled with stringent hygiene protocols, experts agree that COVID-19 can be controlled to an extent.
The government has a tall order ahead of it as it now needs to focus on spreading more awareness on how to safely venture back to normalcy instead of locking people inside their homes. There needs to be an aggressive push for awareness campaigns on safe travel, safe workspace etiquette, especially in congested, lower-income neighbourhoods, where both awareness and adherence to guidelines are still low. The government alone cannot achieve this. Citizen groups cognizant of the threat and its deadly aftermath must seriously consider options such as self-policing or self-governance, with assistance from law and order personnel, to ensure that their communities are protected at the cellular level. By now, it must be second nature to us to discourage visitors to one’s home or office, if they refuse to wear masks or come within 5 feet sans masks. Whether we like it or not – every defaulter in this space will now have to be treated in the context of life or death – and be dealt with penalties that act as deterrents to future offenders.