CHENNAI: Ahead of Ayudha Pooja and Dasara celebrations on Saturday, huge crowds thronged various shops and markets in the north Chennai’s business hub on NSC Bose Road near the Madras high court. The main road as well as the interior lanes were chock-a-block with vehicles and people. Many were seen without masks and physical distancing was thrown to the wind.
Shopping ahead of Onam was one of the main reasons why Covid-19 numbers witnessed a spike in Kerala and this was why Greater Chennai Corporation officials continue to warn residents and shopkeepers to avoid crowds in Chennai. But the warning seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Meanwhile, surveillance by the corporation and police on the ground has also not been strict enough.
Senior civic body officials said they were anticipating crowds ahead of the festive season and had conducted regular awareness campaigns. “We are not lowering our guard, but we have not gone on any additional drives or taken any drastic steps on Saturday,” an official said. Regular enforcement activities by teams headed by assistant engineers at every ward level continued, he said, adding the officials took action on complaints and carried out in-person checks. “Even a sanitary inspector has been given the powers to shut down shops if there is violation of rules,” the official said.
On the lack of drastic measures, the official said cases had dropped in Chennai by a good number and herd immunity may have set in. “For instance, on Saturday the entire north Chennai (zones 1-5) has recorded less than 120 cases. During the peak, a single zone like Royapuram would record more than that,” the official said.
Also, shop-owners are wary because their business can be shut by the lowest level official for violation of norms, but for re-opening it, green signal has to come from the commissioner. “This is a big hassle that shopkeepers are not willing to take and hence are smarter,” the official said.
Vellaiyan, president of Tamil Nadu Vanigar Sangangalin Peravai (association of traders) said that single shops don’t allow patrons to come inside. “We sell stuff only if they wear masks. Sanitisers are kept at the entrance and physical distancing is maintained,” he said.
However, GCC was shutting down shops even if patrons did not wear masks or follow distancing norms outside the shop, Vellaiyan said. “We have objected to this practice and have filed a petition with the GCC commissioner as well as the chief minister,” he said.