Community' transmission in Chennai?
News analysis

Community' transmission in Chennai?

S.Murari

The alarming spurt in the number of over 1,000 Covid-19 cases in a matter of three or four days in Chennai has made experts wonder whether the community transmission stage has been reached when it spreads like a forest fire.

It's not just the number of case, but the jump by over 500 of them in the last three days after three days of continued curfew like total shutdown ended on Wednesday night.By Saturday, it reached 1,257, half of the total of 2,757 cases in the entire State.

A simplistic view is that people rushed to stock supplies ahead of the three days of virtual curfew from 6 am on last Sunday, April 26 to 9 pm on Wednesday April 29 between Thursday and Saturday, it spurted to 1,257 from 551.

If the ill-planned three-day virtual curfew when the nation is already under lockdown 0.2 was the reason for the sharp spike in cases in Chennai, a second reason.was the failure to ensure door delivery of essentials like vegetables and fruits. As a result, people were forced to come out of their homes. It had a catastrophic effect in congested north Chennai areas like Royapuram, Tondiarpet and Ti Ru Vi Ka Nagar with people thronging grocery and vegetable shops during the few hours they were kept open.

It also showed that suspension of public transport by itself will not localise the infection. A retail vendor bought his vegetables in Koyambedu wholesale market, sold them in nearby Padukuppam and spread the infection there before Koyembedu emerged as a hotspot. A woman bought flowers from Koyambedu, got the infection there and carried it to Vadapalani where she usually sells them near the temple. A coolie got the infection from Koyambedu,thumbed a lift in a truck and went to his hometown of Ullunderpet, over 150 km. As a result, 19 persons got the infection from him.

As the State Government has eased curbs including in Chennai, there is likely to see another spurt.

Learning from past experience, the government has allowed a range of shops to open and for longer hours. It has made wearing of face masks in public compulsory.Epidemiologists and virologists suspect Chennai may already have reached the community transmission. Still a fresh outbreak can be controlled through social distancing and making of face masks compulsory at least in big cities like Chennai, they hope.

Chennai Corporation commissioner G Prakash attributes the high number of cases in Chennai to population density. That does not explain the sudden spurt despite lockdown since March 24. He says the corporation is critically monitoring hotspots. It’s using drones to disinfect streets in containment zones. City police is using drones fitted with camera to monitor movement of people and vehicles.

Like Kasargod police, the Tamil Nadu police have also developed apps to watch people in hot spots.

Jayaprakash Muliyil, scientific adviser to the National Institute of Epidemiology, says:’ I believe we are now past the stage of containment and have gone to community transmission’.

He says it's time to switch gears. Patients with symptoms and those without should be separated.

Asymptomatic persons should be under home quarantine. They should be asked to come to hospital only if they develop symptoms.

That way the hospitals will not be overwhelmed and they can give greater care to serious cases.

Dr Ram Gopalakrishnan of Apollo Hospitals in Chennai says going forward, the focus should be on the vulnerable and the elderly who may continue in semi lockdown condition while the rest can go about their business, of course wearing masks, keeping safe distance and observing hygiene.

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