After more than five months, operation of buses resumed here to a lukewarm response from passengers and places of worship, parks, shopping malls,hotels and clubs too reopened on Tuesday across Tamil Nadu. After sanitisation, buses were brought out of deports while drivers and conductors started work after a temperature check.
In several places, workers offered prayers and broke pumpkins, a customary practice to ward off the evil eye before hitting the roads. Transport Minister M R Vijayabhaskar said only a very less number of people used the services on the opening day across the state and assured more buses after looking into the people's response in the days to come.
Out of the fleet strength of about 22,000 buses instate-run transport corporations, 6,090 were operated today within the confines of each district and services are open upto 9 pm, he told reporters. COVID prevention protocol of allowing a maximum of 32 and 24 passengers in mofussil and city buses respectively were followed, he said.
Wearing of masks is mandatory and sanitisers are placed in buses for sanitisation of hands, he said. To a question on the buzz in social media about a "hike" in bus fare, he ruled out such a possibility.
The monthly travel passes issued before the lockdown will be valid upto September 15, he said. A Metropolitan Transport Corporation official said of the fleet strength of over 3,000 buses here, about 2,000 were operated adding "there were very few people in most routes." On June 1, after a hiatus of 68 days, government-run buses resumed operations in a limited manner in Tamil Nadu except Chennai, Chengelpet, Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur.
In the state capital and three nearby districts, buses that were operated on March 24 have restarted services only now. The government, for transportation purposes, had divided the state into eight zones (comprising a number of nearby districts), and allowed public transport buses within the zones doing away with the need for e-pass for intra-zone journeys.
However, the inter-district or intra-zone public transport bus services were later withdrawn as COVID cases increased. Though the government had allowed opening of small sized places of worship since July, larger religious places including the Madurai Meenakshi temple opened today.
The famous Ramanathaswamy temple in Rameswaram also opened today. Devotees were allowed inside after temperature check and sanitising the hands at the entrance. Steps were taken to ensure that social distancing was maintained inside the temple premises, the authorities said. Temples were decorated with plantain and mango leaves, sanitisers were made available and the floors had "circle markings" to ensure a queue to maintain social distance.
The government has said worship shall be allowed only upto 8 pm and prohibited large gatherings. Also, as per the Standard Operating Procedure, "no physical offerings like prasad / distribution or sprinkling of holy water to be allowed inside the religious place." Shopping malls, hotels and clubs, which too were reopened saw comparatively less patronage.
Parks, however, became lively again with the return of morning walkers and joggers. As a general preventive measure, the government said cross ventilation should be encouraged in all places and temperature setting of air-conditioners should be in the range of 24-30 degree Celsius.
Air circulation system shall see to it that the "fresh air level" was more than 50 per cent.