Ration shops across Tamil Nadu are now running the risk of turning into coronavirus super-spreaders with large number of people who gather in queues violating physical distancing.
At a government run shop off Lloyds Road in Chennai, at least a few hundred people queue up without physical distancing for a few hours every day to buy essential commodities including rice, dal, sugar, wheat and oil. Exempted under the intense lockdown, these shops remain open only till 12 PM every day.
55-year-old Lakshmi, a domestic help, came in to collect free rice as early as 7 am. She has been without work or pay for the third week now. When asked about the risk of being part of a crowd, she said, "We have to eat, right? We can't buy anything now. If we have income at least we can buy something."
After being in queue for more than an hour, Usha, a single elderly mother is walking to her home with a bag full of rice and other essential commodities. Her son, a painter too is without work for weeks. Many like her say they have no choice. "At least if the shop is open till 5 pm, its fine. Now they close at 12 pm. We have no other way."
Raju, another youngster waiting, said, "The government should arrange more staff and volunteers so the delivery would be faster and the crowd could be regulated."
In the first wave, Chennai's Koyambedu Vegetable Market had turned into a super-spreader, infecting more than 6,000 people. Now with the city's daily tally just beginning to dip after crossing 7,500 two weeks ago, doctors are worried. Hospitals say they hardly have any beds.
Dr V Dedeepiya Devaprasad, Senior Consultant, Critical Care, Apollo Hospitals, who has been treating positive patients over the last several months, told NDTV, "Everyone should be socially responsible. We either swim or sink together."
Following NDTV's report, the authorities sent in volunteers to regulate the crowd at the outlet. "But with uncertainty over lifting of lockdown, a senior ration shop can't be shut," said a senior officer.
Many also say, however well-intended, there is little cooperation from public even as Tamil Nadu's daily coronavirus tally hovers around 34,000 new cases. Over the weekend, the state government had let the floodgates of shops and outstation travel open. This drew criticism. Now there is worry that all these could lead to yet another spike in the weeks to come even as the state recorded a slight dip for the sixth day, recording 33,361 cases on Thursday.