Indian Express Stories of Strength

Facebook and The Indian Express bring you a series on those at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic. From healthcare workers to government officials to innovators — a look at their day at work, their struggles and challenges.

‘I take the front line when there is danger’: Meet the Collector at the helm of Tiruppur’s Covid fight

Using social media and implementing innovative ideas on the ground, Tiruppur Collector Dr K Vijayakarthikeyan has been creating awareness about the pandemic in the most effective way.

May 8, 2020 10:22:37 pm

Ever since the country imposed a lockdown to break the transmission of coronavirus, government agencies have been trying hard to sensitise people about the importance of social distancing and staying at home. Tiruppur Collector Dr K Vijayakarthikeyan seems to be ahead of the curve in sending across this message to the people of his district. Using social media and implementing innovative ideas on the ground, he has been creating awareness about the pandemic in the most effective way. A disinfection tunnel, a WhatsApp group to bust fake news and social media challenges are some of the initiatives Vijayakarthikeyan has undertaken to fight Covid-19 in Tiruppur.

“You have to be proactive to achieve something, that’s how I was able to initiate many precautionary programmes in Tiruppur to curb the spread of the coronavirus,” says Vijayakarthikeyan, who has authored several books in Tamil and English.

To involve people in the fight against Covid-19, he threw up a #Giveupchallenge on Twitter where he asked people to sacrifice their favorite dish for a day, stay indoors and eat whatever was available. This received a lot of attention as people posted their favourite dishes on Twitter.

Tamil Nadu has reported 6,009 cases of coronavirus and 40 deaths. The state has tested the highest number of people in the country so far, surpassing Maharashtra. Among all the districts, Chennai had the highest number of cases at 3,043; Tiruppur has reported 114 cases so far.

In a first of its kind in Tamil Nadu, a disinfection tunnel was inaugurated outside the Uzhavar Santhai (Farmer’s Market) at Thennampalayam town in Thiruppur on April 1. The 16-feet long stainless steel structure was inaugurated by Vijayakarthikeyan. He also shared a video of people passing through the tunnel on his Twitter page which went viral. The structure was set up by the district administration in collaboration with Young India, the youth wing of the Confederation of Indian Industry at a cost of Rs 90,000.

The disinfectant tunnel is not in operation now after the state government instructed all district collectors to refrain from setting up such tunnels after medical experts suggested there is no scientific proof of their effectiveness in killing the virus. The collector, however, said the structure was not a substitute to regular disinfection measures and was more of a supplement.

The initiative initially received appreciation from all quarters. From Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palanisamy, everyone lauded the Tiruppur collector for this.

“People from Young India need to be appreciated for bringing this to me, we fine-tuned and installed the tunnel. I am not sure about the output because we have seen quite a few videos of the tunnel being set up in other countries but we haven’t experienced it first-hand. I was the first person to get into the tunnel, it was nice, and then we started allowing the public to get into it… it went well,” he said.

Using social media and implementing innovative ideas on the ground, Vijayakarthikeyan has been creating awareness about the pandemic in the most effective way.

The disinfection tunnel soon became a runaway hit, and was replicated in many places across the state, including at the Koyembedu Market in Chennai.

Following the success of the tunnel, Vijayakarthikeyan set up a walk-in sample kiosks (WISK) at the government hospital in the district at the cost of Rs 1 lakh. The screening booth was set up by the Tiruppur district administration in collaboration with the Indian Medical Association.

“This initiative was tried and tested in other countries. In India, it was first set up in Kerala. We came up with this plan to make testing methods more accessible, and most importantly, safe for healthworkers collecting the samples.

“Ours is a unique model as we have a two-step kiosk process. One booth has been set up at the entrance of the hospital, which is more like a screening point. Our team will check whether the patient has any ILI (influenza-like illness), and if they are found to be positive, they will be directed to the second booth, i.e., the sample collection point placed at the entrance of the isolation ward,” he explained. He said they are planning to set up more such sample collection centres in other containment zones in the district.

When asked how difficult it is to be in charge of a district during the pandemic crisis, he said, “It is tough, but we have to step up in these scenarios. We have been chosen to take care of the public and hence we need to be one step ahead all the time. A lot of inhibitions, second-thoughts will keep pushing us down. People hesitate to initiate something for the welfare of the public, but I want to be different. I take the front line when there is danger… that’s how you earn the people’s trust.”

“We have formed a group called ‘Tiruppur Corona fighters’, which has around 1,000 people. We discuss what can be implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Steps to stop the spread of fake news is definitely among these measures. We have given numbers of all the grocery shops to the public for home delivery. Our volunteers will are engaged in this process as some shops are not able to do it,” he added.

Vijayakarthikeyan said those who tested positive for coronavirus have been quarantined and are being observed meticulously to ensure the virus doesn’t spread to other people. “All the community samples have been negative so far in the district. We have to be proactive and not reactive in emergency situations like this. As our next focus is on containment, we have mapped the vulnerable areas. The contract tracing process has begun, and then we have to put all these things in the map. We have to form the containment zones and then follow a micro-plan for all these areas,” he said.

 Also in this series: Dr Sameer Parikh on how to better manage anxiety, work-life balance during a lockdown