Thiruvananthapuram: Emphatically ruling out community transmission and citing the low reproductive rate of the virus in Kerala, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan made a case for a wider unlocking of the state.
Public buses can start inter-district travel, halls will be open for marriages, and film shootings can resume. Nonetheless, schools will remain closed at least up till July, and curfew-like conditions will be imposed in containment zones at least up to June 30.
A decision on opening places of worship to devotees and hotels and restaurants to customers will be taken only after June 8 when the Centre would issue its guidelines.
Inter-district travel, fare hike withdrawn
Public buses, which till now could travel only within a district, will be allowed to travel to a neighbouring district. Also, passengers can now occupy all the seats. However, no standing passengers are allowed.
"When there are no such norms for travel in planes and trains why should here be such a restriction for buses alone," Vijayan said during his customary sunset briefing on Monday.
With buses allowed to operate at full capacity, the recently announced temporary hike in fares also stands withdrawn.
Cars and autorickshaws can also carry more people. In cars, there could be three passengers beside the driver; till now it was just two. Autorckshaws, which till now were allowed only one passenger, can now carry two.
It's 'start action' for movies and serials
Film shootings have been permitted but it has to be indoor, inside studios or in indoor locations. There should not be more than 50 people a a location. Television channels, too, could resume shooting provided it is done indoors and the set does not have more than 25 people.
Like in the case of other temples, Guruvayur Sree Krishna Temple has also been allowed to conduct marriages. But on the condition there would not be more than 50 persons attending a marriage.
The government has, however, not put a cap on the number of marriages that could be held on a day in the temple. "It is up to the Guruvayur Devaswom to make the necessary restrictions," the chief minister said.
Weddings would be allowed in auditoriums and halls, too, on the condition that there would be not more than 50 attendees.
Opening of places of worship
However, a decision on removing the lockdown restrictions on worship will be taken only after the Centre comes up with its guidelines on June 8. The chief minister said he would hold a discussion with religious leaders before June 8 to firm up the state's opinion on the issue.
Continued ban on gatherings
Pinarayi Vijayan also said that large gatherings were not advisable at this point, though he did not mention anything about religious festivals. He said gatherings are mostly organised by cultural and political organisations that were largely made up of elderly people.
"Reverse quarantine will fail if large gatherings are allowed. If the elderly come out of their houses, the chances of infection are high," he said.
Curfew in containment zones
However, in containment zones strict controls like in a curfew would be imposed. Travel to and from these zones will be allowed only for urgent medical needs and in the event of a close relative's death. Even for this a travel pass has to be secured from the nearest police station.
Relaxed norms for outside workers/experts
Quarantine norms have been relaxed for those coming from other states, and even abroad, on work. Other-state workers who come to the state daily for work will be given a pass with 15-day validity. Those arriving in planes and trains for urgent business or other job-related activities in the state also need not undergo quarantine if they could show proof of return within seven days, a return ticket for instance.
The Centre has already issued guidelines for the calibrated opening of the country after the lockdown. On certain issues, states have been authorised to either continue or tighten controls already in place. Such decisions will be made on the basis of the disease spread in each state.
New argument against community spread
The chief minister also came up with an inventive argument to rule out community transmission. He conceded that there were over 30 positive cases in Kerala with no epidemiological links or whose source of infection could no be traced.
He said the presence of such cases could not be considered community transmission. "It can be called community transmission only if there are many cases without known sources of infection in a particular area. This has not happened in Kerala," the chief minister said.
According to him, these 30-odd cases are contacts of positive cases that were missed during contact tracing. "It is not possible for a person to remember all the people he or she had come into contact in the last 14 days," Vijayan said.
If not a primary contact of an imported case, he said these cases would at the most be a secondary contact, a person who got infected from a primary contact whose source of infection is known.
He also said that 90 per cent of the COVID-19 cases in Kerala since May 4 were imported cases, or had come infected from abroad or from other states.
So when there is a case with no epidemiological link, the chief minister said testing would be stepped up in the area. "It is also on the basis of the results from these enhanced tests that community transmission has been ruled out," he added.
He also said in Kerala the virus had a basic reproductive rate (the number of persons to whom a positive case can transmit the virus) of just 0.45. Globally, he said the average was three.