Large-scale violations of government-mandated coronavirus guidelines continue in Tamil Nadu ahead of the state elections even as authorities have directed political parties to ensure wearing of masks in public meetings and road shows. The oversight of Covid protocols is being reported as the southern state sees a spike in infections. India recorded a single-day surge of nearly 40,00 fresh infections on Friday, the highest since November 29.
On Thursday, only a few people with masks were seen and crowds did not follow social distancing norms amid poll campaigning by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami in delta region of the state, including Kudavasal, Sirkazhi and Vedaranyam.
Similar visuals emerged from DMK chief MK Stalin's roadshows in Thiruvallur and Pudukkottai districts besides MNM Chief Kamal Haasan's public meetings in western Tamil Nadu in Tiruppur and Gobichettipalayam and TTV Dhinakaran's public outreach in Chennai's Velacherry and on the outskirts.
Only a few days ago, authorities had made it a pre-condition for political parties - seeking permission for poll-related meetings - to ensure wearing of mask by attendees.
Tamil Nadu has seen a 100 per cent rise in COVID cases in nearly three weeks - from 474 fresh infections on March 1 to 989 new cases on Wednesday - due to what officials call "heightened political activity, rise in family functions including weddings and home quarantine violations".
Health Secretary Dr J Radhakrishan said, "There is heightened political activity and many gatherings. People do not wear mask as you show on TV. Even if one has the virus, it spreads."
A functionary of the Indian Medical Association blamed leaders who do not set an example during campaigns. "Even many leaders, who ought to be role models, do not wear masks," he said.
Political parties, however, claim they are doing their best.
AIADMK spokesperson Kovai Sathyan said, "Both Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam have told party cadre to wear masks at every meeting".
His DMK counterpart, A Saravanan, said, "Our leader M K Stalin has vaccinated himself and has urged everyone to vaccinate themselves. He also advises party workers and general public to wear mask and follow social distancing to stop the spread of the virus."
Meanwhile, MNM candidate for Chennai's Velacherry has said he has tested positive and now plans for hyper-digital campaign.
While political parties appear to be largely not worried, people too have let their guard down across the state. Authorities have intensified their crackdown fining those who violate norms in public places. Anticipating an exponential rise health authorities are now getting ready COVID care centres, at least 4,000 beds in Chennai alone.