With COVID-19 positive numbers showing a reassuring dip, Kerala has intensified lockdown measures with the clear intention of quickening the recovery.
The cabinet has asked the Governor to promulgate an ordinance, Kerala Epidemic Diseases Ordinance, 2020, that will give the state extraordinary powers to control, and even prohibit, events conducted by the general public or individuals or specific groups. “Given our situation, the cabinet has decided to go in for greater controls,” Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told the media on Wednesday. He was referring to the spate of lockdown violations that was on show on the state's roads.
The ordinance will give the state the powers to seal borders. It will also give the full control over the functioning of private institutions. It can also shut down public transport, which the government had already done.
Essentially, the ordinance will give the state powers to lay down specific guidelines for social control. Armed with the ordinance, the government can also put violators in jail for up to two years and impose penalties. The government will also get extra powers to control crowds in public places and even places of worship.
In short, the ordinance is a kind of carte blanche given to the government to impose any measures it deems fit to prevent the spread of disease. It will be promulgated by annulling two existing acts, namely the Travancore Epidemic Diseases Act and the Cochin Epidemic Diseases Act, which had included the Malabar region also within its remit.
As part of efforts to increase the availability of medicines, the State cabinet has also decided to exempt Kerala State Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Limited from tender proceedings for the purchase of raw materials for the manufacture of sanitisers and eight medicines, namely Paracetamol Tablet IP 500 mg, Azhitromycin Tablet IP 500 mg, Chlorpheniramine Maleate Tablet 4 mg, Amoxycillin Capsule IP 250 mg, Amoxycillin Capsule IP 500 mg, Cloxacillin Capsule IP 250 mg, Cetrizine Tablet IP 10 mg, Hydroxy Cloroquinine NF 200.
The Chief Minister said steps would be taken to ensure that no one went hungry during the period of the lockdown. “Such a situation could push many into deep hunger,” Pinarayi said about the lockdown.
He said the district administration and local bodies have been asked to draw up a list of beneficiaries. He said community kitchens will be opened at the ward level and food would be taken to the houses in need by voluntary workers recruited for the purpose. He said cooks would be recruited in a big way for the community kitchen project.
Each area would also be provided with a common telephone number to which families could call up for food and medical service. “So even if any family feels they have been left out, they can call up this number and ask for food,” the Chief Minister said. He said cooks and volunteers picked to distribute the food packets would be trained in all the necessary precautions to be taken.
The facilities of government hospitals, especially their canteens, would be used to the fullest to take care of the food needs of patients and their bystanders. Special care will also be taken to reach necessary life-saving drugs to patients undergoing treatment for kidney, heart, cancer and other serious ailments.
The Chief Minister also assured that there would not be any shortage of food grains as the 25 godowns of Food Corporation of India have stock for eight months.
The Chief Minister once again made it clear that it would be ideal for Malayalis who had been stranded in other states to remain where they are. “I know it is hard but think about returning after 21 days,” Pinarayi said. “However, there are those who had crossed the border. They but will have to undergo quarantine for 14 days, whether they have a fever or not. This is a precaution the state could not avoid,” he said.
A group of passengers who had crossed the border in Palakkad and had been quarantined in Victoria College had complained that they had been unnecessarily quarantined. They had also alleged that they were given substandard food.