New Delhi: The total Coronavirus cases in Tamil Nadu have skyrocketed to 9,227, with Chennai accounting for more than half of the cases. The sprawling wholesale market at Koyambedu in Chennai has turned out to be a super spreader of the coronavirus with the number of positive cases in otherwise low prevalence districts like Cuddalore seeing a sharp rise in recent days after people from there travelled to the market. Also Read - ‘Don't Permit Train or Air Services to Tamil Nadu Till May 31,’ Palaniswami Urges PM Modi

This new superspreader is streteched over 64 acres. Till May 9, a total of 2,005 cases linked to this area were reported, making it the epicentre of the pandemic. It is worth mentioning that number of cases from the area has crossed the number linked to the Taglighi Jamaat Congregation. A total of 1,350 cases were linked to the congregation. Also Read - Coronavirus: With More Cases Than Delhi, Tamil Nadu Becomes Third Worst-hit State in India

The market, which houses nearly 4,000 shops and employing around 20,000, has been closed and shifted to a temporary facility at the suburban Thirumazhisai. Also Read - 'Forget About Coming to Power': Rajinikanth Warns Tamil Nadu Government Against Reopening TASMAC Shops

Blaming reluctance of vegetable vendors of Koyambedu market here to move out as a major reason for the spread of COVID-19 in Tamil Nadu, Chief Minister K Palaniswami on Wednesday indicated that the ongoing lockdown could be lifted “gradually” depending on people’s cooperation.

He also attributed the high spike in daily virus numbers in the recent days to increased testing of samples and asked people not to panic, citing views of experts that the pandemic will “slightly go up” before declining.

Chairing a review meeting of district collectors and other officials to take stock of COVID-19 prevention activities at the Secretariat here, he also said the state was bearing the cost incurred on sending guest workers stranded in Tamil Nadu to their native states by special trains.

In his opening remarks, he listed out his government’s various efforts to ensure people did not suffer during the lockdown and had access to essential items.

Later, in his concluding address to the bureaucrats, the chief minister spoke in detail about the Koyambedu episode. He recalled that the first round of talks between officials of Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) and market representatives was held as early as on March 19 when they were asked to shift sighting the crowd, but they did not accept the idea.

Subsequent rounds of meetings were held between government and the representatives, some even chaired by his deputy O Panneerselvam to break the deadlock, but the vendors were firm on not moving out fearing losing business, Palaniswami said, adding even basic precautions like wearing masks was not adhered to by many there.

“So, the government held many rounds of talks with the traders. But ths issue (of spread) arose because they were firm that shifting will affect their business,” he said. “Now, because many from Koyambedu had travelled to other districts, the number of infected there (in those places) has gone up. This is the reason for the spike in cases in Chennai also,” he said.

Finally, following a major spread, the market was closed with the concurrence of the stakeholders and has been functioning at Thirumazhisai from May 10, he said.

On Chennai topping the list of positive cases, he said the density of population, especially in narrow alleys and streets, was a significant contributing factor. Referring to sending back guest workers stranded in the state, he said the Tamil Nadu government was footing the bill involved in the operation of trains.

Palaniswami also stressed on intensified testing of lorry drivers and workers entering Tamil Nadu from other states.

(With inputs)