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Vol. XXX No. 23, April 1-15, 2021

When a city is careless…

by The Editor

It is now quite clear that contrary to all claims of victory over Covid, we may be staring down an abyss. The virus has clearly not gone away. In fact, during the time we were celebrating the falling numbers it was merely crouching for a spring so to speak, with renewed vigour. Unfortunately, the sharp spike has come at a time when the administration is involved with the Assembly elections, which by itself is a very demanding exercise. What is unfortunate however is the carelessness of the people. The attitude towards Covid that we now see is completely inexcusable.

Just around a month ago, Tamil Nadu and Chennai appeared to have come up trumps as far handling the pandemic was concerned. Union Ministers praised us, doctors and experts predicted that the end was in sight and there were learned articles as to how there was no possibility of a second wave in the city and state. And then the numbers began to rise, and have continued ever since. At the latest count, as on 27th March, we in the city appear to be well on our way to daily increases in four digits. The only consolation is that at present casualty figures are still low.

While there is much that can be laid at the door of the administration for this evolving crisis, there is a lot that could have been done by we, the people. The wearing of masks is the first and perhaps most important step. This by itself seems to be a huge hurdle. Most people prefer to go around without this simplest of protective devices. Of course, this is not surprising in a state where the helmet law is still considered a punishment. The heat was given as an excuse then. We presume the fogging up of spectacles will be the reason for not wearing masks.

Avoidance of crowded spaces is the next precaution. You only need to see what is happening in election meetings to realise why the numbers are growing. There are practically no masks to be seen anywhere and the people are tightly packed together – a perfect breeding ground for the virus. The High Court has recently suggested (only suggested) that the Election Commission may spread the message about attendees at political meetings wearing masks. But there is no sign as yet from the EC about this. A rather languorous video on how to vote however does advise precaution, maintaining of distance and wearing of masks.

We next come to religious events and get-togethers. The recently held Kapaliswarar temple festival was a case in point (see Heritage Watch). The same is true of weddings, cinema screenings and public events. These could have been avoided. While we understand that the entertainment and hospitality industries are suffering, bailout packages for these rather than simply encouraging them to open up may have been advisable.

Lastly, we come to the hesitation in getting vaccinated. For once our city appears to have adopted the good manners of old Lucknow in allowing others to go ahead in being injected. That a city which has a high literacy rate and prides itself on being a rationalist bastion should be so diffident when it comes to preventive steps is puzzling. The only option left for the administration is to then make it compulsory. We trust they soon will for we otherwise do not see much hope for Chennai.

In the midst of all this chaos, we persistently hear rumours that a lockdown may be imposed. Those that spread this do so with cheer, as though it was a long-promised holiday. Truth be told, little beyond idleness is achieved by lockdowns. It has been established that they only postpone and do not prevent peaks. What is wanted is discipline and rigour in safety protocols even as we go about our daily duties. Can Chennai demonstrate its ability to adhere to such norms?

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