Chennai and parts of Chengelpet, Kancheepuram and Thiruvallur went into a 12-day lockdown on Friday, 19 June to contain the novel coronavirus. Under the lockdown, only essential services are allowed. The restrictions, which had eased since early May, made a comeback in view of continuing surge in virus cases in the city and its peripheral districts.
TNM did a status-check in several neighbourhoods in Chennai on day 1 of the lockdown.
Anna Salai and Nungambakkam
One of Chennai’s busiest areas is no longer bustling with activity, as the lockdown comes into force. While residential areas are completely deserted, with almost no vehicular traffic, the Nungambakkam High Road still continues to see trickle of cars and two-wheelers.
Though the number of vehicles is nowhere close to what can be seen on any regular working day, there are still private vehicles and two-wheelers on the road. The most number of two-wheelers however belong to food and grocery aggregators - Swiggy, Zomato and Dunzo.
And while police vehicles are constantly doing the rounds, it is to the entrance of Anna Salai near Anna flyover that most traffic police are stationed.
Barricades have been set up on the road to prevent movement of vehicles into the arterial road. Police Commissioner AK Viswanathan had announced that the road will be cut off for all vehicular movement except ambulances.
However traffic police at the barricades who spoke to TNM say that they are allowing persons involved in essential services to pass through including buses carrying doctors and nurses.
“When we let in an ambulance or a bus with hospital staff, some other private vehicles sneak in as well. What can we do? People need to have some sort of discipline,” says a traffic policeman, stationed at Anna Salai. Police are being stationed at the venue in two shifts - 6am to 2pm and 2pm to 10 pm. “We have however noticed that almost 95% of the people are wearing masks which is a good thing,” he adds.
While larger restaurants remain open for deliveries, TNM noticed that several of the smaller shops have been closed.
Santhome and Kamarajar Salai
The ever busy Santhome High Road that leads to Kamarajar Salai, the route that the Chief Minister takes daily to travel to the Secretariat from his residence in Greenways Road, was a picture of calm on Friday afternoon. The heat reflecting off the tarmac was high near the Marina Beach that was entirely deserted. Some of the major junctions on these two roads, one near Santhome Church and the other near the Lighthouse on Marina Beach, had very few vehicles plying. The Kamarajar Salai is also where the Commissioner’s office is located and a small camp was set up by the police near Gandhi statue on the Marina promenade to monitor vehicles.
Thiruvanmiyur, the starting point of the East Coast Road, witnessed a near-total enforcement of the lockdown on Friday. The East Coast Road or ECR as it’s popularly known, which runs from Chennai to the southern districts, saw sparse vehicular movement on Friday.
Even in residential areas like Valmiki Nagar, vehicular movement was less when compared with normal days. Only tempo trucks with vegetables and bubbletop water cans were operating on the road. Most shops in the area remained shut apart from those selling groceries and daily use items.
Mobile vegetable carts were found stationed near crucial junctions.
“I have around 10 shops in the Thiruvanmiyur market. But since the market was shut down, I took a vehicle on hire and am selling the vegetables. We move around for a bit early in the morning and settle at a junction after an hour or so till 2 pm,” says Suresh*, a vegetable seller in Valmiki Nagar.
Radhakrishnan Salai or RK Salai, an arterial road in Chennai saw few vehicles plying on the roads. Several vehicles had stickers on the front shield -doctors on duty, government. Most cabs, and auto rickshaws stayed off the roads. A number of Swiggy, Zomato, Dunzo executives were also out on their two-wheelers at around 2pm on Friday.
All commercial standalone shops that had opened on May 11 were shuttered in this otherwise-busy neighbourhood. The few grocery shops in the area, which had opened at 6am had also downed their shutters by 2pm - the closing time set by the Tamil Nadu government.
Barricades were placed at the foot of the flyover that connects RK Salai and Cathedral Road, with vehicular movement completely barred. There were also barricades placed near the Music Academy Junction, and at the TTK Road-Cathedral Road junction, with traffic policemen routinely stopping vehicles and checking for passes. “Most people who are using the vehicles today are workers,” said one traffic policeman to TNM.
Essential supply shops such as groceries and pharmacies were open during the hours set by the state government. Some restaurants were also open for take-away and delivery. All other shops were shut. While most roads were deserted, some roads were blocked for vehicular traffic. Delivery executives were out on the road, delivering essentials to those in the neighbourhood.
The lockdown was effective in Velachery, a neighbourhood in Chennai south, which is normally bustling with IT employees and school goers. At The Velachery-Tharamani link road that connects Velachery, OMR and other places to the Ascendas and Tidel park, most essential shops that were open in the morning downed their shutters by 2pm. The link road was mostly deserted. The few vehicles that were plying on the road were water tankers, lorries carrying essentials and food delivery executives. Medical shops remained open although there were no buyers when TNM visited the place.
Major hotels remained shut while small eateries were preparing food for delivery and takeaway. Since there were no takers for the food some eateries started downing their shutters by 3 p.m. A worker at a small eatery serving parottas in the Velachery-Tharamani link road, said, "We expected that at least 20 people will come and have food in the shop. But hardly 10 people visited the shops. If things continue like this I think I'll shut my shop and remain at home. It is not like other businesses where I can sell the next day. The food will become stale if I don't sell it today. So I'm just thinking of what to do. "
Drones for Patrolling
Meanwhile, police deployed drones and intensified patrols to check violations. City Police Commissioner AK Viswanathan warned that vehicles including two-wheelers found violating lockdown norms will be seized and asserted that curbs will be strictly enforced.
Cooperation from people was good, he said and appealed to them to continue that for the success of complete lockdown to help prevent COVID-19 spread. "During patrolling we found good cooperation from people in many areas. People, for buying essentials should walk to shops only in their neighbourhood. If use of vehicles was found and if they go to far away areas, the vehicles will be seized," he told reporters.
After inspecting a monitoring drill using a drone here, Viswanathan said drones were also being used to sensitise the public about the need to stay indoors and follow norms apart from monitoring purposes.
Recorded messages are broadcast through loudspeakers fitted on the drones that have been deployed in several areas for effective monitoring, he said.
Vehicle checking and patrolling has been intensified, Viswanathan said adding people, if they venture out to buy essentials, should wear masks. The city police have put up checkposts in over 250 locations in the city and suburbs to check violations and implement lockdown effectively.
(The article was originally published in The News Minute and has been reposted with permission.)