An "intense lockdown" to check the spread of the highly infectious coronavirus or COVID-19 began this morning in five cities of Tamil Nadu, including Chennai, that have recorded nearly half of the state's 1,821 cases. The lockdown has been intensified for four days in three cities - Chennai, Coimbatore and Madurai (till 9 pm on Wednesday). Two smaller cities - Salem and Tirupur- are under stricter restrictions for three days (till 9 pm on Tuesday).
Under the intense shutdown - announced by Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami on Friday - people are not allowed to step out of their houses even to buy groceries. The grocery and vegetable shops allowed to stay open from 6 am to 1 pm are shut to restrict movement of people and ensure social distancing; restaurant takeaways are also not allowed.Only push carts selling fruits and vegetables and home delivery from restaurants are permitted.
The state government has ensured doorstep delivery of essentials. "To vend vegetables and fruits, only mobile outlets shall be allowed," the Chief Minister said on Friday. Disinfection tasks will be carried out twice in the containment zones and only government-run Amma canteens that provide food at subsidised rates, ATMs, hospitals, labs, pharmacies and allied services like ambulances remain functional.
Yesterday, thousands of people - desperate to stock up groceries and other essentials ahead of lockdown - queued up outside shops, resulting in violation of social distancing norms in several parts of the state, including state capital Chennai.
Nearly 46 percent of coronavirus cases in Tamil Nadu - one of the states worst hit by COVID-19 outbreak- has been recorded from these five cities. Chennai alone has 495 coronavirus cases (27 percent of the state's total cases), Coimbatore has 141, Madurai has 60; 110 cases have been registered from Tirupur and 30 from Salem.
In Chennai, contact tracing and testing too is being ramped up and more than a hundred containment zones in the city have been identified.
This morning, the state capital and several other parts in the state woke up to heavy rain as the intense shutdown began.
During the intense shutdown, banks and central government offices are allowed only 33 per cent of employees. While employees in sectors like information technology have been allowed to work from home, other private sector firms shall remain closed, the government has said.
The "intense lockdown" in Tamil Nadu comes in the middle of a nationwide shutdown ordered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month and extended last week to May 3. Under the countrywide restrictions, all shops and commercial establishments except those selling groceries, vegetables and medicines had been shut.
Across India, nearly 25,000 people have contracted coronavirus so far; more than 700 have died. Twenty three deaths linked to COVID-19 have been reported from Tamil Nadu so far.