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How Chennai's Koyambedu wholesale market emerged as coronavirus hotspot

Asia's largest vegetable and fruit market, Koyambedu in Chennai is making headlines but not for the right reasons. On Monday, the busting market was closed after a sharp rise in coronavirus positive cases in the neighbouring district and Kerala's Wayanad. Chennai reported 279 cases on Saturday taking the total coronavirus positive tally to 3,390.

India TV News Desk India TV News Desk
New Delhi Updated on: May 10, 2020 10:32 IST
A crowded market in Chennai, Tamil Nadu
Image Source : PTI

A crowded market in Chennai, Tamil Nadu

Asia's largest vegetable and fruit market, Koyambedu in Chennai is making headlines but not for the right reasons. On Monday, the busting market was closed after a sharp rise in coronavirus positive cases in the neighbouring districts and Kerala's Wayanad. Chennai reported 279 cases on Saturday taking the total coronavirus positive tally to 3,390. Almost 40 per cent of the total cases in Chennai were linked to the Koyambedu cluster. Clearly, the social distancing norms went for a toss in the area resulting in a steep rise in COVID-19 cases. 

Koyambedu wholesale market attracts people from across Tamil Nadu who come here to sell their products or seeking work. 

“Koyambedu market is the only source of vegetable trading for the farmers of border areas of Chittoor. In fact, it is the biggest market in South India and is stretched over 65 acres. Every day, a large number of farmers from Palamaneru, Madanapalle, Satyavedu and Kuppam have been regularly going to Koyambedu to sell vegetables during the lockdown,” Chittoor district collector Dr N Bharat Gupta was quoted as saying by the Hindustan Times.

According to reports, the Tamil Nadu government acted indecisively even though signs of Koyambedu turned into a hotspot of coronavirus were evident around April 27. The Authorities could have shut it immediately without waiting for some alternative arrangement, but it would have hampered the supply of vegetables and fruits to the city. 

According to reports, workers and shopkeepers are more affected due to the virus as compared to the visitors. 

“Koyambedu is a problem that has cropped up over the last one week. But we continue to deal with the swelling clusters in crowded areas such as Royapuram, Tiru-vi-Ka Nagar and Pulianthope,” Greater Chennai Corporation special nodal officer J Radhakrishnan was quoted by TOI.

“We see people walking on the streets with masks inside their pockets, or wearing them around the neck. Today, I saw a guy sharing his mask with another man when they saw a policeman approaching them. What we need to do now is to ensure people understand that mask will prevent illness. They need to practice social distancing norms willingly,” he further added.

On Saturday an alternate vegetable market site was inspected by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam at Thirumazhisai which will possibly start operations from Sunday onwards. The inspection will be followed by the allotment of shops at Thirumazhisai to the vegetable vendors from Koyambedu wholesale market.

Vegetable prices in Chennai skyrocket

Shutting the Koyambedu market has pushed retail vegetable prices in the city. Brinjal, which normally sells around Rs 30/kg is selling around Rs 100/kg, potatoes which normally is around Rs 40/kg has skyrocketed to Rs 80/kg. Bhindi was selling at Rs 100/kg while some retail outlets were selling green chillies at Rs 150 a kg.​

Concern in Thiruvalluar

But, the decision of shifting Koyambedu market to Thiriumazhisai in Thiruvalluar district, which is in the outskirt of the city, raises concerns among the people on the further spread of virus in the city.

According to a report in the Times of India, each shop in Thirumazhisai market will be given around 400-500 square-feet, with a front area of 200 square-feet to enable adequate physical distancing between customers. 

As the struggle to contain the virus continues, the infections have moved to the next layer in the contact network of victims. “It has gone beyond primary contacts. It has now spread to an extent that secondary sources are testing positive - some family members are infecting others. The numbers may increase till the middle of this month and we hope things look better post that,” a senior official privy to the developments told News 18. 

On May 1, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami appointed a team led by senior bureaucrat and disaster management expert J Radhakrishnan as the chief nodal officer to control the virus in Chennai. Three days after Palaniswami made the appointment, the Koyambedu wholesale market was closed.

According to News 18, the Koyambedu cluster was not the first in rapid containment for Tamil Nadu. It emerged after the cluster outbreak linked to the Tablighi Jamaat conference. The Koyambedu market cluster is estimated to be nearly five times that of the Nizamuddin cluster in Tamil Nadu.

According to the state's health department, Tamil Nadu's Covid-19 case count reached 6,535 on Saturday after 526 fresh cases were reported in the South Indian state. After four more deaths getting reported, the death toll in the state reached 44. Of these over 6,500 cases, 1,867 cases are linked to Koyambedu market.

ALSO READ | Tamil Nadu reports 4 COVID-19 fatalities, death toll reaches 44; 526 test positive

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