The Koyambedu wholesale vegetable market in Chennai, which was labelled a coronavirus hotspot in May, reopened today, but many seem not to have learned lessons from a pandemic that has infected over 5.8 lakh people in Tamil Nadu alone.
Many people (mostly traders and workers) were seen without face masks and failing to practice social distancing – two oft-repeated rules for Covid management.
Velayudham, who helps loads the vegetables, is one of those without face masks as he trudges between a shop and a series of produce-laden trucks.
A few shops away another worker – Karunakaran – who works for a banana wholesaler – neither wears a face mask nor practices social distancing. His friends too appear equally carefree as they sit and chat together.
“We are not scared of COVID 19. How can we earn money if we are scared? We had tough time without salary for four months,” Karunakaran told NDTV.
Overall, around 30 per cent of the people who gathered to work at approximately a quarter of the 2,000 shops that have been reopened in Koyambedu appeared to violate Covid norms.
As many as 3,500 people contracted the virus from this market before it was shut down in April. Pre-Covid around a lakh used to visit every day.
“This is a physical labour-intensive area. People sweat a lot… they often remove the mask, wipe their faces and wear it again. They have trouble getting fresh air too. We can’t help it,” Krishnamoorthy, the manager of a shop, said.
As Chennai looks to unlock economic, commercial, social and other activities after months of a strict lockdown, there are worried fingers being pointed at a daily spike in cases – new infections crossed 1,000 per day for a fifth straight day today.
This is despite city authorities imposing fines on those who violate the rules.
“An element of casualness is there. So far 55,000 cases, including those related to institutions, have been registered and around Rs 1 crore in fines has been collected. The intention is to make them understand that they are not only putting themselves at risk but others too,” Health Secretary Dr J Radhakrishnan said.
The food grains section of the Koyambedu market was reopened September 18. The vegetable section reopened today and the remaining sections, which include fruits and flowers, are expected to reopen shortly.
For hundreds it is a revival of their livelihoods after five months of uncertainty and fear.
However, many are now concerned that the lack of precautions could once again lead to the market becoming a Covid super spreader, unless the business community and the government act.