Covid-19: How ‘citizen volunteers’ helped Chennai ‘tame’ the virus spread

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“Is everybody fine at home?” This is the standard question that Sridhar*, a college student, has been asking people in Nanganallur over the past three months. The aim is to check if anybody has any Covid-19 symptoms — cough, fever or sore throat.Sridhar is one of the 17,000 college students, graduates and post graduates recruited…

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“Is everybody fine at home?” This is the standard question that Sridhar*, a college student, has been asking people in Nanganallur over the past three months. The aim is to check if anybody has any Covid-19 symptoms — cough, fever or sore throat.

Sridhar is one of the 17,000 college students, graduates and post graduates recruited as ‘temporary’ volunteers by the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) to keep a tight vigil on its citizens, as part of its Covid-19 containment strategy.

In fact, the vigorous containment strategy with the help of these volunteers appears to have helped — the number of new daily infections came down to 1,216 on Thursday from a peak of 2,393 around 10 days ago.

“I start the day at 7 am and finish by 2 pm,” said Sridhar, who covers nearly 100 homes every day. Volunteers are provided with ID cards by the GCC, and carry thermal scanners and pulse oximeters, he added.

There are nearly 29,000 streets in the city and each volunteer is assigned three or four streets, depending on the size of the zone.

While 12,000 volunteers are involved in every day door-to-door campaigns to detect the virus early, about 4,000 volunteers help people in home quarantine and home isolation and another 1,000 tele-volunteers are involved in contact tracing as well as helping those who are in home quarantine, said Sridhar.

The volunteers are paid ₹500 per day, said GCC Commissioner G Prakash. They act as a strong bridge at the ground level and play an important role in containing the virus spread, he told BusinessLine, adding that early detection improves the clinical outcome and prevents further spread of the virus.

After the survey, the volunteers need to enter the data in a portal with LatLong, a geographical tool, for each home. If any symptoms are reported, the back-end team picks up the information and GCC personnel are sent with a vehicle to take the suspected patient to the nearest fever camp for testing, said Prakash.

In the last three months, nearly nine lakh homes have been surveyed, with nearly 75,000 persons having one or more symptoms. About 68,000 persons have recovered and nearly 6,300 people are being monitored, said a GCC tweet.

FOCUS volunteers

Another 4,000 volunteers are part of FOCUS – Friend of Covid Citizen Under Surveillance. The FOCUS volunteers are distributed in 200 wards across 15 zones to monitor those under home quarantine and home isolation. These include patients as well as returnees from abroad.

Prakash said FOCUS volunteers will visit the homes under quarantine in their jurisdictions thrice a day to ensure that the persons are not violating quarantine protocols and that all essential items like groceries and medicines are provided to them. “In India, home-to-home survey and coordination is currently being conducted only in Chennai city,” he added.

With infections spreading fast in the districts, some Collectors have sought advice to replicate the successful containment strategy followed in Chennai with the help of thousands of volunteers, said Prakash.

But being a volunteer is far from easy. Many abuse them over the daily visits. They are barred from some apartments for fear of catching the infection from them, said Sudhakar*, another volunteer. This is despite the fact that the GCC has been making repeated appeals to people to cooperate with the volunteers for early detection of the virus, he said.

However, he was quick to point out, with colleges closed since March, the money is well earned despite the hardship.

*Volunteers’ names changed to protect their identity

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