COVID-19 wave across TN: Why more cases in non-hotspot districts outside Chennai?

While Chennai, Kancheepuram, Chengalpattu, and Thiruvallur have been under the ambit of the worst-affected districts in Tamil Nadu, the state has been witnessing the steady and sharpest rise of COVID-19 cases in some of the major districts, that were earlier remained as the non-COVID-19 hotspots, for the past few days alarming the government that the COVID-19 wave has been blowing strongly across the state. 

Till the first fortnight of June - precisely June 13, these four districts had heavy caseloads and major contributions in the state's tally. However, when we analyzed the grounds of spread after that, some of the major districts had a significant share in the state's tally as the cases outside these districts have steadily been increasing each day, leaving the district administrations to rely on the lockdown to subdue the spread. 

To put out in numbers, the state had reported 1,989 COVID-19 cases on June 13 of which about 250 cases were from outside of these four districts, and on June 14, the cases outside these four districts were 247 out of state's tally of 1,974. On June 15, the state had reported 1,843 cases while 350 cases recorded outside of these districts whereas the number stood at 388 on June 16. On June 17, the state has reported 2000 cases for the first time of which 547 cases were recorded outside of these four districts.

The numbers were at 454 on June 18 and on June 19 - when four districts of Chennai, Kancheepuram, Thiruvallur, and Chengalpattu were imposed with the complete lockdown for 12 days, the state recorded 556 cases outside of these districts and exactly one day after the lockdown, the state has seen 707 cases outside these districts and on June 21, the state has recorded another spike of 734 cases outside of these four districts. 

Again on June 22, there was yet another spike with 921 cases outside these four districts and Madurai and Tiruvannamalai had contributed for a major rise. On June 23, the number stood at 775 while on June 24, the tally from outside these districts had nearly touched 1000 by reporting 927 cases and on June 25 - Thursday, the tally has touched 1000 after the rest of the districts, apart from four worst-affected, had reported 1,216 cases with Madurai surpassing the single-day tally of Chengalpattu and Tiruvallur.

These data were ascertained from the daily bulletins released by the state health department and it can be learned that COVID-19 wave has been widespread across the state with major caseloads from Chennai, Chengalpattu, Kancheepuram, and Thiruvallur districts and a steady rise in other districts. The districts like Madurai, Tiruvannamalai, Vellore, Ranipet, Cuddalore, and Ramanathapuram are second in line districts after the top four by reporting at least 140 to 280 cases per day in the last week.

Upon analyzing, it came to the revelation that the sudden uprise of cases in these districts has been the sequel of the mixtures of two major elements - relaxations of the restrictions in the fifth phase of the lockdown and a sudden and complete lockdown in Chennai and its neighboring districts. According to the reports, the increase in cases in these districts has largely been attributed to the major influx of people from Chennai to these districts, as most of them exited Chennai in the wake of the complete lockdown for 12 days.

As the government has announced the complete lockdown on June 15 from June 19 to June 30, thousands of people from Chennai applied for e-passes and vacated the city to their home towns and this cluster could be one of the major reasons why the non-hotspot districts become the epicenters. Along with the influx, the zone-based transportation had also been the reason for such a rise in cases. 

When the state government imposed the fifth phase of the lockdown on June 1st, it has awarded relaxations on the transports based on the zones. The government had demarcated the states into eight zones for transportations and each zone comprised of four to five districts. The government said that the e-pass is not mandatory for the intra-zone movement of people and vehicles following which they were large influxes and movements of people between the districts, leaving the district administrations with a challenge of monitoring the people and tracing the contacts. 

It has become a major reason for the rise of cases when it was reflected by most of the district collectors when they met the Chief Minister virtually on June 24. The district collectors revealed that it becomes difficult for monitoring the movement of people within the zone as the movement couldn't able to contain within the zones which adds risk in identifying the people with symptoms and their contacts. They further asked the government to restrict the travel and refrain from the zone-based transports. 

Following their request, the state government has ordered to close the district borders - closed on June 25, and it has also repealed the zone-based transportations and said that people must obtain valid e-pass to carry out travel outside of their respective districts and they must disclose valid reasons for their travels. The government has also said that the movement of private vehicles within the districts has been barred and only the extremely emergency services will be permitted between the districts.

The order has come in the wake of the rapid spread from other districts which had added risk to the government in flattening the curve of COVID-19 affected cases. With the view of containing the second wave, the state government has closed the borders of the districts and imposed a complete lockdown in Madurai and Theni like Chennai and its neighboring districts till June 30 with the hope of getting a sign that the curve would be flattened. However, it has been adding more cases to its tally and on Thursday, the state has crossed 3000 mark for the first time by reporting 3,509 cases as the state's tally currently stands at 70,977 cases.

Must read: TN lockdown: E-pass must for inter-district travel, borders to close from June 25!