TN lockdown: Crowded buses hike coronavirus exposure

Lockdown in Tamil Nadu: Crowded buses increase exposure to COVID-19

assengers rush to board State Express Transport Corporation of Tamilnadu (SETC) buses after lockdown announcement in view of coronavirus pandemic, at Koyambedu bus terminal, in Chennai. Tamil Nadu will be under a lockdown till March 31 from 6 PM on Tuesday to prevent the spread of coronavirus and CrPC section 144 will be invoked for its implementation. (PTI Photo)

As the Tamil Nadu government announced that the state would go for a lockdown from Tuesday evening, there was a sudden rush at the Dr M G Ramachandran Mofussil Bus Terminus here with thousands of people landing there to reach their native place.

Social distancing, on which much emphasis is being laid as a precautionary measure to avoid the spread of COVID-19, was thrown to the wind by thousands of people who jostled with each other to board buses. Pictures and videos shared by passengers on social media are scary to say the least as all one could see in them is only human heads with no physical distance being maintained between people.

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The government reduced the number of bus services to discourage people from travelling but that did not deter those who were resolute in reaching their home towns and cities – several travelled on the rooftops of the buses. The situation was worse in suburban Tambaram, Perungalathur and near the Paranur toll plaza with hundreds of people lining up there to find some space in buses to travel.

Almost all buses were jam-packaged with people sitting on the floor of the vehicles after having occupied all seats putting several at risk – most buses carried passengers twice its capacity on Monday and Tuesday. There was no screening of passengers at Koyambedu terminus on Monday evening and such a measure was introduced only on Tuesday morning.

Doctors said the scenes at Koyambedu would fail the very purpose of imposing Section 144 in the state. They said prohibitory orders were issued to keep people indoors and not for them to travel and spread the disease if they unknowingly carry it.

However, people who travelled have a different take. They ask how they would have managed to find accommodation and three-square meal when the mansions and paying guest facilities that they were staying have closed their doors already.

Former Union Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, a doctor himself, rued that people are still not taking the threat from Coronavirus seriously and warned that Covid-19 virus is now travelling from the urban areas to the rural areas of the state.

Read: Coronavirus India update: State-wise total number of confirmed cases

“The scenes at Koyambedu looked like as if people are travelling home for the holidays. This is unfortunate. The government should have planned better before announcing prohibitory orders. Such close travel would only take the disease from urban areas to rural areas. The government should have made the travel free by arranging enough buses,” he said.

Meena Sundar, a 30-year-old marketing professional, had to transit at two places to reach his home town Pattukkottai in Thanjavur district in the Cauvery delta region. What is normally a six-hour journey was taking more than 11 hours for Sundar to reach his native place.

“I boarded a bus to Puducherry at 10.30 pm from Sholinganallur after having stood at the bus stop for two hours. I reached Puducherry at 2.30 am and the journey was horrible. More than 100 people travelled in the bus, whose capacity is hardly 55. From Puducherry, four of us hired a cab to reach Kumbakonam from where we took a local bus to Pattukkottai,” he told DH.

Sundar said he had to come to his hometown because he wasn’t sure of managing his needs in Chennai after Section 144 came into force. A passenger at Koyambedu who was

Rajkumar, who works in a semi-government organisation in Perungudi, considers himself a bit lucky as he began his journey on Monday afternoon before the announcement was made.

“My journey was much better than others. Though I got a seat for myself only in Villupuram which is three hours from Chennai on a bus going to Tiruchirappalli, but the bus wasn’t insanely crowded. I had to get down at Tiruchirappalli and took another bus to reach my home city of Madurai,” he told DH.

Dr G R Ravindranath, a medical doctor and General Secretary of Doctors' Association for Social Equality, said the government did exactly opposite to what it has been preaching to the people for the past few weeks.

“The government asked people to maintain social distance, but it reduced the number of buses. How can it do so? The ill-effects of crowded travelling might result in community transmission of Covid-19 virus. If one in a bus had the virus, there is a possibility of him transmitting it to several people. The government didn’t learn from what happened in China and Italy,” he said.

A government doctor, who did not wish to be named, said community transmission cannot be prevented if people travel in crowded buses and assemble in public places. “Section 144 was imposed to keep people indoors and not to travel. People don’t realize what they would get into if they come in contact with a person who carries the virus. If they contract it, they will spread it to others too,” he said.

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