Kerala saw a stupendous spike in the number of coronavirus positive cases on Monday, prompting Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to declare that "we are entering an unprecedented situation." The state reported 30 new COVID-19 cases on Monday taking the number of infected people to 93.
Given the situation, the chief minister declared a complete lockdown in Kerala till March 31. The lockdown comes into effect from March 23 midnight.
No community transmission yet
The intensity of the virus spread has obviously increased but the chief minister still maintained that Kerala had not entered the third stage of community transmission. "As many as 25 of the 28 cases now declared positive have come from Dubai and the rest are their primary contacts. Instances of these people infecting others (secondary contacts) have not come to our notice. So it is still not as alarming as it sounds," the chief minister said.
Two more positive cases were confirmed late Monday night. Both came from Dubai, the officials said.
The spurt in positive cases has reportedly persuaded the chief minister, who was reluctant to declare a lockdown of even seven districts fearing economic collapse, to go for extreme measures.
Of the 30 cases reported on Monday, 19 are in Kasaragod – 18 men, mostly youth, and a 26-year-old woman. There are five in Kannur, two each in Ernakulam and Kozhikode, and one each in Pathanamthitta and Thrissur. Twenty-seven of them are Gulf returnees.
Essentials are assured
The supply of essential services - medicine, groceries, fuel, milk, electricity, telecom and LPG - will be ensured. But shops selling essential goods - groceries and provision stores - will function only till 5pm. These shops, however, can open at 7am. In Kasaragod, where the situation looks grave, shops will be open only from 11 am to 5 pm. Medical shops can function as usual.
Grocery and provision stores have also been encouraged to shift to home delivery in a big way. "We have told that shops in a particular area should form a common online platform to collect orders from those living nearby. The orders can be shared among the group and then delivered to various homes," the chief minister said.
He said the government would directly reach essential commodities to the houses of the poor and those most affected by the lockdown, especially the daily wagers in the informal sector.
Hotels and restaurants have also been asked to shut down. But they can do home delivery. The stress on home delivery mechanism is a sign that the government wants to the economy to chug along even during the lockdown.
All public transport, both public and private buses, will cease operations. Nonetheless, travel will be allowed in private vehicles.
All cultural and religious events stand cancelled. "Any ritual that involves a large gathering will have to be called off," the chief minister said. A priest in Chalakkudy was arrested on Monday for conducting a mass attended by over 100 people. The chief minister has given district collectors the power to enforce even curfew if things go out of hand.
Government offices, which were earlier told to pare their daily strength to 50 per cent, have been told to further cut down the number of employees working on a given day.
Mandatory isolation and social alertness
Now that the state is under lockdown, the chief minister said those coming from other states would have to observe mandatory 14-day isolation. If anyone comes from abroad, they will be isolated in specially created isolation wards.
Those violating isolation norms would be slapped with a high penalty, and could even be arrested. The chief minister said that since many people were found to be sneaking out of isolation, social alertness was a sure shot way to keep those in isolation under strict watch.
First, he said, telecom companies would be asked to keep close track of their clients who are under isolation and promptly report to authorities when they detect any such number under watch had moved out of their base tower location. Second, the chief minister said neighbours would be given a list of those in isolation in their area and also the phone number of the government authority they have to call in case they spot their isolated neighbour breaching isolation protocols.
The chief minister also announced that Coronavirus Care Centres or what he called "COVID hospitals" would be opened in all districts. The concerned district administrations will set up the COVID hospitals with the support of the Health Department.
He also said accommodation and food would be arranged for healthcare workers, doctors and paramedical staff, near hospitals. This is to ensure round-the-clock health service and also to provide heath workers much needed rest.
Bevco outlets will remain open
Despite the complete shutdown, the government has refused to shut down Beverages outlets. Bars, however, have been closed. But even they have been allowed to sell liquor from their front counters.
The chief minister spoke about the Bevco outlets only when he was specifically asked about them. Justifying the decision to keep the Bevco outlets open, he said shutting them could have serious social repercussions. Then, as if to keep the opposition Congress silent, he said Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, even while declaring a complete lockdown, has included beverages in the list of essential items.
The huge crowd in front of a Bevco shop in Vadakara, so unmanageable that the police had to unleash a lathicharge to drive some away, looked like a demonstration of why it was important to urgently shut down Bevco outlets.
In many of the northern districts, especially in Kasaragod and Kannur and Kozhikode where the spread is on the verge of going out of control, huge queues have been reported in front of Bevco outlets. Many don't have even the police to enforce at least preventive steps, though highly ineffective given the conditions, like a one-metre distance between those in queue and the use of masks and gloves.
The chief minister laughed away the long queues on March 21 saying it was the result of distress buying on the even of Janata Curfew. However, he did not account for the large queues on Monday.
64,320 under surveillance
On Monday, 64,320 persons are under observation, up from 59, 295 last day. Of this, 63,937 are isolated in their houses. Of concern is the gradual increase in the number isolated in hospitals. From 314 yesterday, the number has gone up to 383 on Monday. As many as 122 were admitted to the hospitals on Monday.
Till now, 4,291 samples were sent for testing and 2,987 have thrown up negative results.