While the Tamil Nadu government has extended the lockdown till August 31st, urban communities in Chennai are preparing to strengthen their resilience to handle side effects of such a prolonged period of lockdown and restrictions. How is the pandemic affecting them? What are the lessons learned?
Swati Amar meets people from different neighbourhoods of Chennai:
Royapuram and the neighbouring areas
Chennai Zone 5 comprises Royapuram, George Town, Mannadi, Sowcarpet and areas adjoining the Government General Hospital and Madras Central Station.
Head & chief diabetologist at M V Hospital for Diabetes Royapuram and president-elect at D-Foot International Dr Vijay Vishwanathan says, “Initially, people in these areas were in denial of the Covid-19 situation. With the efforts of the Greater Chennai Corporation, things have improved now and they are following the directives of the Corporation to wear masks and wash hands. The Government Hospital at Stanley Medical College caters to a large section of people in this area and has been doing very good service during the pandemic.”
Vijay says that some in the media are projecting Royapuram in bad light, as a problem area because it has slums and is inhabited by people in the lower economic strata. This deters people from other parts of Chennai from visiting Royapuram.
With a large number of wholesale markets in the area, Royapuram’s economy has been badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions. Presently the businesses in and around Royapuram have started functioning in a small way and things are expected to improve in the coming months if the COVID crisis does not strike the region again.
Puliyanthope and Thiru Vi Ka Nagar
Initially a COVID-19 hotspot, Thiru Vi Ka Nagar in zone 6 has managed to bring down the daily number of cases through micro-level management and by barricading homes and streets in the containment areas besides taking steps to increase awareness among people.
A resident of Puliyanthope, an area close to Thiru Vi Ka Nagar, Manjula Suresh says, “Thiru Vi Ka Nagar is densely populated and houses are very close to one another. The people were not aware of the impact of the COVID-19 situation and did not follow rules. Moreover, when people returned from the prayer meeting (Tablighi Jamaat held in Delhi) others flocked to see them without being aware that they could have been infected.”
During the initial lockdown period people from Puliyanthope too faced immense problems when entire streets were blocked even if one person was found to be infected. For people with health issues especially senior citizens it was extremely inconvenient.
Manjula’s family experienced severe stress after her diabetic father-in-law underwent a toe amputation surgery entailing several visits to hospital during the lockdown. Similarly, anybody in the area with mild symptoms of cold or fever was taken away by the Corporation personnel for testing, causing heightened anxiety among the people in the neighbourhood.
Manjula’s son is a class 10 student and her daughter is preparing for JEE at FIITJEE. Speaking about schools resorting to virtual classrooms and video lessons for students, Manjula says the new method of teaching does not give children opportunities to interact with their teachers or clarify their doubts. The teachers too cannot assess how well students have understood the lesson.
Yet Manjula is keenly aware of the need to maintain social distancing, as demonstrated by the fact that despite being members of a close-knit community they have refrained from meeting their family members or going to the Jain temple.
Adyar and Thiruvanmiyur
What started off as a normal day for Radhika Suresh, a resident of The Atrium apartment complex in Thiruvanmiyur, turned into a nightmare when her 23-year-old son was found to be COVID positive.
“My aged parents live in the same complex. So, when my son got a mild fever we decided to get him tested from a lab that sent a technician home. We immediately quarantined him when the test result came,” she says. However, that was just the beginning of an up-close experience with COVID-19.
The next day, the Corporation officials and police team visited the family, collected phone numbers of the persons who came in contact with the boy, asked the family members to strictly stay at home for 14 days and barricaded their apartment door with tin sheets.
“It had a huge psychological impact on me. I was not prepared for this. I thought barricades were erected only on streets or in front of buildings,” says Radhika.
The Corporation officials followed up on their health condition everyday. They also arranged for a volunteer who would get the family vegetables and provisions and leave the items at their doorstep. The family was permitted to go to the main gate of the apartment complex to get their online purchases after 14 days.
“Fortunately everyone from our complex is back on their feet. COVID-19 came and went like a bad dream,” says Radhika. The Atrium reported at least nine cases of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, for K Sharada, who works as a domestic help, the pandemic situation has become a fight for survival. She lives with her husband, son and two daughters in Periyar Nagar near the erstwhile Jayanthi Theatre in Thiruvanmiyur.
Unable to find work during the initial lockdown period, her husband, who works as a plumber, left for their village. He’s been stranded there since then. Their son, apprenticing under an AC mechanic, is unable to go for training due to lack of transportation. Her daughter works as a salesgirl in a jewellery store nearby. Sharada’s another daughter is studying in a school for the underprivileged in Adyar.
“As we do not have a ration card, we did not receive the free rations given by the Tamil Nadu government. Feeding my family is my biggest challenge at the moment”, says Sharada.
Anna Nagar East has managed to stay relatively safe compared to the densely populated western part. Anna Nagar was a COVID-19 hotspot before the Corporation officials successfully identified positive cases, isolated them and effectively contained the spread of infection.
According to chartered accountant Palaniappan, a resident of Anna Nagar East, the COVID-19 situation in the area was taken care of efficiently. Also, the residents have the economic wherewithal to handle the pandemic without being affected much.
“Work from home has its own consequences. Staying at home, I end up working most of the time. I enjoy working so it has not affected me much. Compared to the millions who do not have food or whose lives have been ravaged by floods and natural disasters, we can handle these things”, says Palaniappan
But domestic helpers working in these affluent residential areas, face many practical problems. Most of whom live in single rooms of about 300 sq. ft without any ventilation, where social distancing is almost impossible. These helpers have promised to wear masks and wash their hands when they come to work and inform their employers of any COVID-19 positive case near their homes.
In everyone’s story there are common concerns – of economic uncertainty, of mental and physical health concerns.. There is also a common thread – of hope. “We all hope that a vaccine will come soon.”