Coronavirus | Resettlement colonies at risk of becoming clusters

A policeman addressing the residents of Kannagi Nagar as part of a COVID-19 awareness campaign.

A policeman addressing the residents of Kannagi Nagar as part of a COVID-19 awareness campaign.   | Photo Credit: M. Karunakaran

Cramped living spaces, lax lockdown enforcement raise concerns of an unchecked spread.

Cramped for space, resettlement colonies in and around the city are now staring at the threat of COVID-19.

Three of the major Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB) resettlement colonies at Kannagi Nagar, Perumbakkam and Semmenchery have already reported cases.

According to officials, 27 residents of Kannagi Nagar have tested positive. Thirteen are index cases and the remaining household contacts. Of the index cases, seven to eight persons are linked to the Koyambedu cluster. In Semmenchery, six persons have tested positive, while two have tested positive in Perumbakkam.

Maintaining physical distancing and isolation at home is next to impossible in both slums and resettlement colonies. Consider this: it is estimated that there are over 3 lakh households in nearly 2,170 slums in the city, according to officials in TNSCB. The three major colonies account for over 50,000 houses and the size of each house ranges between 120 to 400 sq.ft.

Fear among residents

A cross-section of residents of TNSCB resettlement colonies said they fear that the infection may spread quickly as houses are located close to each other and containment measures are not enforced properly. “There are over 23,000 houses in Kannagi Nagar and Ezhil Nagar. All of them are located close to each other. It is very difficult to follow personal distancing as the size of the houses ranges between 120 sq. feet to 220 sq. feet and people sit outside to get some fresh air,” said Stephen, a resident of Kannagi Nagar.

Despite COVID -19 cases in the locality, residents claim that Kannagi Nagar has not been demarcated as a containment zone. “The entry and exit points have not been blocked. Many residents are daily wage earners, and they step out hoping to get some work,” added another resident.

Similar is the complaint from residents of Perumbakkam and Semmenchery. “The entry and exit points to the Perumbakkam tenements were blocked two weeks ago after the first case was reported. However, they are not enforced strictly as people from other parts of the city continue to visit their relatives,” a resident said.

In Semmenchery, residents said metal sheets with ample space for a person to pass through have been placed to block entry to houses of infected persons. “However, people continue to enter and leave the dwelling units,” said K. Kanchana, a resident. “No physical distancing is followed. People also walk around without masks,” she said.

‘Screening elderly residents’

P. Kuganantham, former city health officer, said, “There is no spacing and so, the chances of disease transmission are high. All elderly residents should be screened. Many of the women here are anaemic and should be given zinc and vitamin tablets to build immunity. It is important to provide supplements.”

Officials of the Greater Chennai Corporation said 150 fever survey workers were on door-to-door surveillance duty, covering 23,000 households in Kannagi Nagar. “We are getting good data from the ILI survey. In fact, four cases were picked up from the survey. We will be conducting four fever camps here. We have also set up a dedicated control room for Kannagi Nagar and Semmenchery which people can contact in case of symptoms,” an official said.

Being high priority and high risk areas, enforcement teams were deployed and all street vendors were told to wear masks. “We are trying to distribute reusable cloth masks to all 23,000 households,” he added. The Corporation not only shifted positive patients to care centres but also their household contacts, and individuals residing in two to three nearby homes to temporary facilities, he said.

Public health officials said persons with symptoms were being tested “We are advising those aged above 60 to stay home and are providing them with masks. Their houses are small but it is better that they avoid coming in contact with people outside,” an official said.

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Printable version | Jun 6, 2020 10:53:05 PM |

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