The COVID-19 lockdown has completed three weeks and is headed for the extended two more weeks. The number of patients has come down and more survivors are walking out of the care centres to their homes. But with the sigh of relief, many are letting down their guard, if reports from various borders of Kerala are to be taken into account. With rising number of illegal entries in to the state across the borders of hotspot states Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, most of them arriving through shortcut routes escaping checkpoints, the administration officials and volunteers, who have been tirelessly working to avert any disaster, are left in the lurch.
With borders open for emergency services like medical ambulances to ferry the sick and transport lorries for essential commodities, many Keralites who had been waiting at Karnataka and Tamil Nadu for the lockdown to end, have started coming to Kerala through lesser-trodden wild paths, slipping away from the watch of the border security, thereby endangering the lives of themselves and the people they come in contact with. Some even walk along the railway tracks, to reach their home state.
Confirming the daredevilry, police sources say, "There have been several instances of lockdown violation at the state borders. Among the 78 cases registered for lockdown violation in Vazhikkadavu station limits in Nilambur town of Malappuram district alone, several are against persons who crossed the Tamil Nadu border to enter Kerala illegally."
Palakkad is one of the worst-hit districts in the current scenario. As many as 190 persons who have crossed the state border illegally have been retained and sent to isolation.
Dr Nazar Abdul Kadher, deputy DMO, Palakkad, points out, “With Kerala’s curve flattening and the situation in Tamil Nadu worsening, it’s a crucial time. The inflow of possible carriers makes things difficult for the government machinery and general public. Medical officers and health workers are working round-the-clock, and police have been striving hard to keep any untoward incident at bay, but the behaviour of a very few irresponsible people lands everyone in a risky predicament.”
“Most of these people come from hotspot areas of Salem and Coimbatore in lorries, ambulances and even bikes. They get down at a place away from the check post and sneak in through the forest route; they are not concerned about the dangers they are posing to themselves and others. Just a day ago three students had rode a Bullet from Chennai; they were stopped at the border and shifted to corona care centre for 14 days’ isolation. A man drove all the way from Delhi in a car with certificates showing that he tested negative, and he too was caught and sent to stay in isolation,” says a health official in Palakkad, upset over the height of irresponsibility.
Many managed to escape the officials and were reported by neighbours after they reached home. Police register cases against all of them for violating lockdown and asking them to stay home quarantined. “People are becoming fearless as the cases decrease, but we are not yet out of danger. There could be community spread if people choose to be irresponsible. It’s not the time to wander off. People have to stay indoors to save every life,” the health official adds.
In Malappuram district which borders with Tamil Nadu, connecting through Nadukani via Nilambur too, there have been reports of illegal infiltration. Till the second week of April, 59 persons were caught crossing the border and shifted to 14-day quarantine, and the numbers have been growing with people reporting the arrival of many in their neighbourhood disguised as lorry drivers' assistant's and ambulance staff.
However, authorities are determined to contain the recklessness of the few. Malappuram District Medical Officer Shakeena K says, “After a video conference with the Chief Minister, it has been decided to strengthen border checking and local monitoring on ward-level. Cross-border entry is allowed only to pregnant women, people who travel on emergency medical purposes and in case of death of close relatives. Even for that, they need to have relevant records and prior permission from the District Collector. Entry, then will be allowed with one bystander. The rest who are entering flouting norms are shifted to corona care centres, and will have to face legal issues. Lockdown can be lifted only in a phased manner. An action plan has been formulated for that, but till then, the restrictions will continue.