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How Chennai residents are coping with Corona

COVID-19 is still largely uncharted territory. And therefore, the path to deal with it is bound to have its twists and sometimes, hairpin bends. Geographically-defined groups, especially the gated communities, are improvising along the way, keeping their ears perked for updates from government agencies engaged in tackling the public health crisis; and then adopting best practices from their neighbours on how to carry out the mundane aspects of running a community in the manner that will ensure the safety of residents.

How Chennai residents are coping with Corona
 

In these times, hand-sanitisers and hand-washes seem to be going hand in hand with entrances to gated communities — it would be odd if you were not greeted by them. It would certainly help if there were a wash basin to go with them. Or, is that asking too much? Not in the least bit, if you knew what CEEBROS Belvedere, a gated community in Sholinganallur, has done. With some jugaad thinking, it has conjured up a wash-basin in what would have looked like the most unlikely space for having one, only a few days ago.

“We have restricted entry to one place — that is, the main entrance — and closed all others, to ensure effective monitoring of visitors walking into the complex, which primarily is about making sure they rinse their hands with disinfectant liquid. It would have been an ideal situation if this place had a wash-basin. Through a simple, and quickly thought-up hack, we created this ideal situation. There was a water pipeline leading to one of the sections in the gated community; here was nothing outward to indicate there was a water pipeline. We tapped into this provision by taking a line out and adding a tap to it, and then fixed a wash basin. For water collection, we used a garbage bin, and an outlet pipe is connected to the bottom of the garbage bin to drain he used water,” explains Kiran Gupta, president, CEEBROS Belvedere.

Show them, don’t tell them’

How Chennai residents are coping with Corona
 

At Sabari Terrace, there is a water tap next to the security room. So, all it would take to get visitors to lather their hands before they strolled into the community was to pair a soap to the existing facility. The Association would not have been more mistaken.

“We discovered to our horror that the soap was neatly and safely placed inside the security room,” begins Harsha Koda, secretary of Sabari Terrace Apartment Owners Association. “The security personnel had become proprietorial about the soap, thinking it was meant only for them. We had to explain that it was not just about they having clean hands, but that everyone who walked in should also be clean. How do we do it? We spent an hour educating them and the other support staff at the community on what this virus is all about, how it has been spreading, and what was at stake. We explained that ‘the visitor touches an auto, walks in, and he signs in the address book with the pen offered to him, and you handle the pen, there is the chance that virus is spread in this manner, and you will end up taking it to your home. The penny dropped. The next thing we knew the soap was right next to the tap.”

From this instance and similar ones, Prabha Koda, committee member of the Association, believes showing hoe these things are done is better telling the stakeholders about it. She elaborates: “As everyone is trying to contain the spread of the Corona virus, we can’t afford to have the right messages being misunderstood. So, we have created a poster of how to wash one’s hands with illustrations, and displayed copies of it around the wash-basins in the common areas of the community.”

‘Hospitals’ at home

Having an in-house medical team, consisting of practising doctors, can be a big relief in these times. This would be a particularly helpful arrangement is someone has a minor ailment for which they need treatment — with a responsive team at “home”, they may not have to step out of the community. This team of doctors can also provide clarifications on matters relating to the spread of new Coronavirus.

Osian Chlorophyll, a gated community in Porur, has formed a 20-member response team, which includes five in-house doctors who visit residents who are are wondering if they are having symptoms of Coronavirus infection. “So far, we have had some people come to us with such doubts, and all that the doctors had to do is counsel them. The doctors also discuss the quarantine measures residents should take and how,” says Ronald Lamech, a resident.

A ready help

At House of Hiranandani Upscale in Egattur, an Emergency Rescue Medical Team has been formed to help residents deal with problems arising from any medical conditions during this period, by being the first line of intervention. Raghavan Murti, president, Union of Tower Association at House of Hiranandani Upscale, says, “At present, when people are advised not to step out and put themselves in harm’s way, if a medical problem can be tackled through an in-house consultation, why not? There are two physiotherapists in the community who can help residents who may need their expertise. At present, five doctors have volunteered their time and expertise for the Medical Team. The community consists of around 20 doctors in the community, and so we will induct more doctors into the team, if the situation demands it.”

Their word is final

How Chennai residents are coping with Corona
 

Residents of Godrej Palm Grove, a gated community in Chembarambakkam, were advised against panic buying of gloves and masks — the residents took the advice, as it came from two of their own, and these two are doctors.

P.V. Ramaswamy, a resident of the apartment complex, says “We are fortunate to have two doctors in our midst who are part of the COVID -19 preventive committee in their respective organisations. One is Dr. S. Venkatramanan who is a Health Officer with the Directorate of Public Health & Preventive Medicine, Government of Tamil Nadu, and the other is Dr. G.V.V. Giri, oral maxillofacial surgeon and senior consultant with the Sri Ramachandra Medical College & Research Institute (SRMC & RI). Dr. Venkat is a member of the control room committee formed by the Tamil Nadu government and Dr. Giri is a member of the committee formed by SRMC & PI to prevent infection within the hospital. They advised that people who have cold and cough could wear a mask and did not recommend it for others. The doctors said that panic buying of masks could result in shortage and may not be available for people at a time when they need it. Panic buying of masks can also result in odd situation where those in the healthcare sector, who are at a higher risk of contracting the infection, may be faced with a shortage of masks — this is what the doctors told us.”

When The Central Park South, a gated community in Sholinganallur, took sanitation-related measures to insulate its premises, there was the question of what sanitising agent should be kept at all the common areas, including entrances to the various blocks in the community.

“We decided that we would take the matter to some of the doctors in our community, and we went by what they told us was ideal,” says Raakesh Ohri, president of TCPS residents’ association.

For those at the helm of running communities, combating ‘fake news’ can be a drain on time and energy. However, sometimes, the misinformation might have assumed such a monstrous proportion that having to call it out would become a critical act that can not be put off. And combating misinformation becomes an important aspect of the whole exercise. Raghavan Murti, president, Union of Tower Association at House of Hiranandani Upscale in Egattur, a humongous community with ten towers, including a 40-floor tower and six others with 28 floors each, draws attention to an incident in the community that underlines how virulent misinformation can be in these times.

Combating misinformation

“An airline staff residing in our community had been on a flight where one of the travellers was later found to be positive for Coronavirus. The Ministry of Health checked the list of those who had been on that flight, and made contact with each one of them to find out if the infection had been passed on to any of the others on the flight. So, as part of this follow-up measure, a team from the Ministry, including doctors, made a visit to this airline staff’s house. This person was cleared. However, some of the domestic helpers who noticed the team visit the house assumed that there was a problem, and spread the false story. It caused a lot of disturbance; the Association stepped in and apprised the residents of the facts. The domestic helpers who had been spreading this false story were warned, and told that they should check with the Association about such things and not spread misinformation on the basis of their assumptions.”

Keeping all channels of communication open

When they started closing themselves off and shutting out systems that would encourage social contact, some communities started reaping the benefits of past initiatives, and this has been particularly true in areas where they had invested in creating digital communication channels. While they may still continue to post messages on notice boards, they rely considerably on these digital channels to ensure they stay in touch with residents continually, and get all the critical messages across to them.

Last year, Kochar Panchsheel, a 430-unit apartment complex in Ambattur, invested in an apartment society management system that takes care of maintenance, billing, accounting, visitor management and help desk requirements of residents.

“We made it mandatory that every flat owner subscribe to it,” Santosh Abraham, secretary of Kochar Panchsheel Apartment Owners Association.

The Association is finding the application to be of immense help during the present situation where residents have to be informed about the various steps taken by the Association committee as well as create an atmosphere where they is internal sharing of notes among residents, and the possibility of learning from each other.

In WhatsApp there is a limit on the number of people that can be added; and not every new occupant would find out if the Association has a broadcasting group that they can be part of.

This tool has come in handy as it encompasses all residents.

The extra advantage

At CEEBROS Boulevard in Thoraipakkam, a WhatsApp group transmits communications on what have to be, and could be done, during this crisis. Bharathi Hariharan, admin of this group — called “Ladies At CEEBROS Boulevard” — points out that this is an informal group, consisting of 150-plus women residents of the gated community, and during this crisis, this group only seeks to play a supportive role in implementing the decisions taken by the committee. Yet, the ladies can come up with suggestions on how to be helpful as a group to the community and its various stakeholders.

Bharathi gives one example: “The majority of the domestic help who are serving at the community have spouses who are wage labourers. In the current scenario, when most people are staying at home because many work-systems have either shut down or only partially functioning, there is bound to be a huge dip in the family’s earnings. Among the group, a suggestion was put out that everyone consider buying some essential items and distributing them to their respective domestic help or anybody else who may be in need.”

The group reportedly also played a proactive role in ensuring that the support staff at the community followed proper sanitation at their home, thereby ensuring the safety of their family members too.

“We were not sure if they were following the kind of sanitation at their home that check the spread of the virus. As part of this discussion on this group, a video in Tamil on sanitisation was shared, and we decided that each of us would show this video to our domestic help,” explains Bharathi.

She says that the strength of this group lies in its prompt response: “If a question is posted at midnight, you can still expect a response almost immediately.” In these times, when effective and prompt communication is necessary, gated communities can find alternative groups within that are both popular and responsible.

Talking facts

At the time of this article going to press, CEEBROS Belvedere was contemplating asking residents to make a self-declaration if they had recently returned from travelling abroad, and go into self-quarantine.

“It would be a request, and not a rule,” says Kiran Gupta, president, Ceebros Belvedere residents’ association.

“As these are things that go beyond the community level and barge into the personal space, they have to be handled with utmost sensitivity,” he adds.

At Kochar Panchsheel in Ambattur, if it comes to light that that the person has a recent overseas travel history, they may be requested to go on home quarantine. “The application we use has a ‘KYC’ that has to be filled in each time a tenant/owner moves in and out. We have communicated to residents that they should not look at this as a shaming exercise but these are some precautions we need to take,” says Santosh Abraham, secretary of Kochar Panchsheel Apartment Owners Association.

Sabari Terrace at Sholinganallur has put up a poster, among many others, where one of the details it seeks is residents’ travel history. It asks them to report their travel history to the manager.

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Printable version | Apr 4, 2020 11:42:11 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/how-chennai-residents-are-coping-with-corona/article31128834.ece

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