Cadre, counting staff and even police personnel flouted distancing norms and discarded safety gear after a few hours
Across Tamil Nadu, as counting of votes for the recently concluded Assembly began on Sunday it became apparent that people were in no mood to adhere to safety norms to prevent spread of COVID-19 infection.
Throwing to the winds the request of party president M.K. Stalin, DMK cadre crowded at the party headquarters and celebrated the party’s victory. They danced and burst crackers. Only a few of them wore masks.
In Anna University in Chennai booth agents and party representatives crowded inside the counting room. With only one door left open in the counting room for the Saidapet constituency, party workers present there raised concerns and asked for more windows and doors to be kept open which was later done.
However, the crowds which assembled there as early as 8 a.m. continued to stay put till noon with no physical distancing measures in place. Many of them sat outside the counting rooms in groups or were standing inside with no adequate space between themselves.
Masks, shields and gloves were distributed outside the counting centres for each assembly constituency and a majority of the people inside the counting centres adhered to mask-wearing.
Political party booth agents waiting at the Harbour assembly constituency counting centre, Queen Mary’s College in Chennai, did not follow physical distancing norms laid down by the Election Commission.
The Kancheepuram district administration had made arrangements for distributing PPE kits, masks and face shields to booth agents for the counting of votes held for four Assembly constituencies including Alandur, Sriperumbudur, Uthiramerur and Kancheepuram. The agents wore the PPE kits for a few minutes and then discarded them, complaining that the weather was too hot.
While the booth agents were regularly advised by the government officials to wear masks and face shields and maintain physical distancing, in many instances there was no effort to maintain safe distance among the people.
Police personnel also flout norms
In Chennai a police inspector in Teynampet has been suspended for failing to control crowds that gathered and celebrated the DMK’s lead at Anna Arivalayam. The gathered people did not maintain COVID-19 norms.
In the counting centres in the central districts the pattern was similar. Booth agents wore masks, plastic gloves, and even face shields in the morning while entering the centre. However, as the day passed, many discarded the safety gear.
At the counting centre in Saranathan College of Engineering in Tiruchi and Kundavai Nachiyar Government Women’s Arts College in Pudukottai, for instance, counting agents had discarded gloves after the initial few rounds and proceeded with their work.
While sanitisers were placed at various vantage points, not all used them. Authorities at the counting centre in Pudukottai did not seem to insist on the COVID-19 negative certificate or vaccination certificate from the agents or media persons.
In Pudukottai, police personnel also lowered their masks to their chins or placed them in their pockets around noon.
“It is too hot. We are standing outside the centres, where there is no fan. The heat is unbearable and the mask makes breathing difficult,” a policeman posted outside a centre said.
Agents of various political parties thronged the dining areas arranged for their personnel during breakfast and lunchtime. They gathered in groups and rushed to grab plates and the various food items, paying no heed to personal distancing.
In all the four counting centres in Madurai, the political agents and candidates crowded inside the counting halls.
In the counting hall in Tamil Nadu Polytechnic College there was hardly one foot distance between the tables. As a result, the government staff did not maintain adequate distance from each other. The agents and candidates were sitting next to each other in a congested hall. Their compliance towards mask usage was poor.
Media personnel, who entered the counting centres in large numbers, flouted physical distancing norms. Sanitisers were available in the counting centres but outside the counting halls, compliance to physical distancing norms was poor.
(With contribution from Kathelene Antony in Tiruchi and P. A. Narayani and B. Tilak Chandar in Madurai)