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Why Chennai satellite & industry hub Chengalpattu is among TN’s worst-hit Covid districts

Just 50 km apart, Chennai and Chengalpattu are nearly intertwined, traditionally connected by wholesale markets and now by an IT and floating workforce. 

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Chengalpattu: It’s been a harrowing week for Lokesh, a Chennai resident who on Monday was pacing nervously outside the Chengalpattu Government Hospital mortuary. 

Lokesh was waiting for his uncle’s body, who passed away Sunday. Just days earlier, his father had also succumbed to Covid-19.    

“I brought my uncle here because there were no beds in Chennai,” a distraught Lokesh told ThePrint. “Within a day of bringing him here, my uncle too passed away.” 

Just 50 km from Chennai, Chengalpattu is fast becoming a go-to option for those in Tamil Nadu’s capital looking for Covid treatment. 

The two cities are nearly intertwined, traditionally connected by wholesale markets and now by an IT and floating workforce. 

A satellite city to Chennai, Chengalpattu has over the years grown into an industry hub and hosts production plants of companies such as Tech Mahindra, Wipro, Dell, Samsung and Apollo Tyres. 

But as hospitals run out of space in Chennai, more and more people are turning up in Chengalpattu, carrying the infection. 

In addition, doctors in smaller towns such as Madurantakam send their patients to Chengalpattu for treatment. 

All this, along with poor adherence to Covid-19 precautions, has meant that Chengalpattu has become Tamil Nadu’s second worst affected district after Chennai. 

According to the data released by the state government, Chengalpattu recorded 2,458 new cases on 8 May and 2,279 cases on 9 May. As of 9 May, the district had 13,924 active cases. 

The district administration blamed the city’s density and its proximity to Chennai for the spurt in cases. “It’s a densely populated district and an extension of Chennai. Everyday lakhs of people commute for work on either side,” District Collector John Louis told ThePrint.

Dean of the Chengalpattu Government Hospital, J. Muthukumaran, told ThePrint that doctors in Chengalpattu are under pressure to treat patients from about 50 nearby villages and towns. 

“We are getting patients from about 50 districts and villages nearby,” he said. “All our 480 beds are full due to the increased spread of the disease. The hospital is currently under a lot of pressure.”

This is the same hospital that last week lost 13 patients due to an alleged drop in oxygen pressure. The dean Muthukumaran had told ThePrint that the deaths were due to Covid-19 and not drop in oxygen. 

Also read: Actor’s death fuels vaccine hesitancy in Tamil Nadu amid Covid surge, misinformation adds fire

Few following Covid protocols

When ThePrint visited the rural areas of Chengalpattu, it was apparent that not all people follow Covid hygiene. At least around four out of 10 people were without masks in markets. 

Dr Parameshwari, a doctor at the Chengalpattu Government Hospital, the district’s largest Covid hospital, told ThePrint, “There is a Covid fatigue among people. You go to grocery stores, you will find that people are sitting without masks, when you tell them to wear a mask they will tell you that masks make them uncomfortable.”

The city was also affected by the Tamil Nadu government’s announcement of a 14-day lockdown in the state starting 10 May.

As a result of the announcement made on 8 May, over 3.5 lakh people left the city of Chennai. Not only was the highway leading to Chengalpattu crowded with buses but the bus stations in the district saw a heavy footfall too.

Pushpa, a healthcare worker in the district, manages the Covid-19 testing desk at the Chengalpattu bus stand. On Sunday, she told ThePrint, “Everyday we conduct 50-70 RT  PCR tests and about 30 samples come back positive. Today hundreds of people are coming back from Chennai before the lockdown sets in, we are expecting an increase in the number of Covid cases.”

Tamil Nadu, which voted on 6 April, saw a 229 per cent Covid jump in the first half of the month to 84,361 cases. 

A Chengalpattu resident blamed the election campaign. “During elections, both main parties, DMK and AIADMK, campaigned in the area. No Covid precautions were followed,” the resident said.

ThePrint reached the recently elected DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) MLA Varalakshmi Madhusudanan’s office over phone but was informed that she was not available for an interview as she was busy with lockdown-related Covid control activities.

A market in Chengalpattu before the lockdown in Tamil Nadu kicked in on 10 May | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht/ThePrint
A market in Chengalpattu before the lockdown in Tamil Nadu kicked in on 10 May | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht/ThePrint

Pressure on hospitals

The spurt in cases has put pressure on the city’s hospitals, particularly the Chengalpattu Government Hospital.  

On Sunday, at least two women lost their husbands outside the hospital. Amid this, a steady stream of residents walked past these grief-stricken women. These were relatives of patients rushing to buy supplies and medicines for their family members.  

Instances like that of Lokesh have now become commonplace. Within a day of admitting him, Lokesh was informed that his uncle had died. 

The Chennai resident said he rushed his uncle to Chengalpattu because his father did not get good treatment in the capital. 

“I took my father to a private hospital in Chennai where they did not help until the last minute when he got breathless,” he said. “I kept calling the doctor but nobody helped him as he took his last breath. I was hoping that treatment here would be better.”

(Edited by Arun Prashanth)

Also read: Tamil Nadu wasted 8.8% of its Covid vaccine doses, UP has the largest stock, govt data says


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