A few days ago, when Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami was questioned by journalists about the possibility of community transmission of the novel coronavirus in Tamil Nadu, he had a detailed explanation. “It can be called community spread only when you are infected; when I am infected and people around us are infected. It is not community spread now. The government is taking all measures to contain COVID-19. So, people need not panic.”
Palaniswami might have sounded positive. But within days of his statement—with one of his private secretaries succumbing to COVID-19—Palaniswami is witnessing the infection rate increasing from close quarters. On Friday, Tamil Nadu Higher Education Minister K.P. Anbalagan, who is also part of the five-minister committee to contain COVID-19 in Chennai, tested positive.
The minister has been admitted to a private hospital near Nandambakkam in Chennai, for treatment. Sources say his family members, his personal assistants and driver too have been asked to go for testing. Incidentally, Anbalagan was one of the senior ministers who took part in Wednesday's review meeting, along with Local Administration Minister S.P. Velumani, Health Minister Dr C. Vijayabhaskar, Fisheries Minister D. Jayakumar, Cooperative Minister Kamaraj, Revenue Minister R.B. Udhayakumar and Tamil Development Minister Mafoi K. Pandiarajan.
Anbalagan is the first 'VIP' in the government to have tested positive for COVID-19. Earlier DMK MLA J. Anbalagan died of COVID-19, while a AIADMK MLA, K. Palani, is under treatment. Palani’s wife and daughter too have been infected and are under treatment. While the state government has been maintaining silence, DMK president M.K. Stalin said that he spoke to Higher Education Minister Anbalagan and wished him good health. “He should recover fast and come back to serve the people,” Stalin said.
Anbalagan testing positive has set the alarm bells ringing in the corridors of power. According to sources in the state secretariat, at least half a dozen ministers who attended the review meeting along with Anbalagan on Wednesday have given swabs for testing and are awaiting results. Sources also say that the Chief Minister’s Office has turned highly cautious after the increasing infection rate in the secretariat complex. On Friday, as the minister was admitted to a private hospital, sources say two more employees in the Chief Minister’s Office also tested positive.
Meanwhile, the number of novel coronavirus cases has crossed 54,000 in Tamil Nadu, while Chennai has gone into intense lockdown mode.