A vegetable and fruit market in Chennai, the city's biggest and one of the country's largest, has emerged as the latest epicenter for coronavirus cases in Tamil Nadu. Of the 527 people tested positive in the state on Monday, a "large number are linked to the Koyambedu market," a bulletin said.
At least 7,500 more people linked to the market, now spread across several districts in Tamil Nadu, are being traced to check the spread of the highly contagious virus. Most of them are workers and vegetable sellers at the market.
Out of the 527 cases on Monday, 266 are from Chennai and 122 from Cuddalore district.
The development has prompted authorities to shift the Koyambedu market - spread over 295 acres with over 3,000 outlets of which only about 200 of them are presently functional - to suburban Tirumazhisai from Thursday.
"After the Koyambedu market was shut recently for domestic customers, many of these workers lost their livelihood and returned home, where they have spread (the infection). All the details of these 7,500 people are being tabulated and collectors in these districts are tracing and ensuring they are tested," G Prakash, Greater Chennai Corporation Commissioner, told NDTV.
Questions are now being raised if Chennnai's civic body could have averted this massive spread had it shut the market down market soon after the first case linked to it was reported. "We all know it's the main supply line for Chennai and other districts. It's the source of livelihood for lakhs of farmers. That's why we could not close down (the market earlier)," Mr Prakash said.
Tamil Nadu has reported 3,550 coronavirus cases, including 31 deaths, according to Tuesday morning's data from the Union Health Ministry.
The sharp rise in the number of cases in the state over the last week can be attributed to the aggressive targeted testing, said Tamil Nadu Relief Commissioner and Special Nodal Officer for Chennai Corporation, Dr J Radhakrishnan. "We have identified definite clusters, whether it is Koyambedu or two or three pockets where we are doing intensive contact-tracing and getting them tested. The recovery rate in Chennai and Tamil Nadu is excellent. However, we are not taking chances," the top officer told NDTV.
The Tamil Nadu government claims that as of May 1, 1,685 samples per million population were tested as compared to the all-India corresponding figure of 708. On concerns that the aggressive, ramped-up testing is not being done in other districts, as Krishnagiri, the only district in the state with a green tag, had only 464 tests per million.
On why Chennai witnessed an exponential rise in COVID-19 cases, Dr Radhakrishnan said, "We have a population of one crore. In north Chennai, houses are so close to each other and the lanes are so narrow, it is easy for the infection to spread within families . Many use public toilets and around 25 per cent people don't wear masks."