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Vol. XXIX No. 24, April 1-15, 2020

More than Lockdown and Testing Needed

by The Editor

Those of us who experienced the 2015 floods thought we had seen enough for a lifetime. And then came cyclone Vardah. Now we are living through one of the most unusual situations – a city in lockdown to fight a virus, not for one day or two but for three whole weeks. The only consolation is that we are not alone – there is a whole world out there doing the same. And yet there are many who have probably never felt more alone than at a time like this. What are we going to do about them?

There was no option but to lockdown for social distancing and basic hygiene are the only ways in which we can handle this epidemic. And there could have been no other way than a total clampdown either. The affluent and the middle class, more particularly the young and healthy among them, or those with enough of a support framework are the least impacted. They stay at home and post their entertainment ideas and jokes on social media. There is nothing wrong with that – a society in lockdown needs its outlets to keep the spirits up.

The bigger problem is of those who are incapacitated, elderly, live alone or need caregivers. Still bigger is the challenge posed by the poor – depending on daily wages, living in crowded homes and neighbourhoods. The biggest issue concerns migrant labour – left high and dry, with no place to go to, no recourse to food and no means of travelling back to their home territory. What is the solution for each of these categories? This is where the State Government can become more inclusive and reach out to volunteers for help.

The Amma Canteens and the noon meal centres are all working at present. And according to those in the know, they are doing great work, the latter especially in reaching food to all the anganwadis that depend on this supply for children under their care. These facilities can be asked to handle larger quantum of food for distribution. Besides, there are factories now closed in the city, which have canteen facilties that can be used as well. What is missing is the distribution network to reach food to those who cannot make it to these locations. Can the Government reach out to a list of volunteers who are willing to take this on?

The same goes for homebound elderly who need essentials to be delivered at their residences. Not everyone is tech savvy enough to order online and most pharmacies and shops though open do not have enough manpower to handle deliveries. This also where volunteers can assist. There is minimum physical interaction in all of this – deliveries can be picked up from counters and left at doorsteps. Yes, cash will have to be handled. Volunteers can be trained on basic hygiene – washing of hands and usage of masks.

We now come to the poor and homeless – with all schools and colleges and wedding halls remaining empty, these buildings can be requisitioned temporarily, to add to the number of homeless shelters that the Corporation already runs. There are also larger precincts such as the Nandambakkam Trade Centre, temple, mosque and church courtyards and interiors.

These are all buildings large enough to house people keeping in mind social distancing norms. Healthcare and hygiene workers will be needed to maintain these places – they can be drawn from the people who are moved in here. They need some basic training which can be given. Monitoring can be done by the Corporation staff and volunteers. The same facilities can be extended to migrant labour, who have nowhere to go.

This is a situation that needs creative thinking to aid and abet the lockdown to make the fight against the epidemic a total success. We are all available for help. To do something by ourselves may not be the best solution as we do not want to work at cross purposes. The Government needs to only call us and we are ready.

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