Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had been consistently questioning the wisdom of mass agitations at the time of COVID-19. He had alleged that the opposition was deliberately sabotaging the anti-COVID efforts of the government and had warned of strict punitive measures under the Disaster Management Act and Kerala Epidemic Diseases Ordinance would be invoked.
But the Chief Minister's barbs and threats had fallen on deaf ears. The opposition outfits, demanding the ouster of higher education minister K T Jaleel, have only cranked up their aggression on the streets. Violent clashes with the police are now a daily affair.
In defense, the opposition argue the Chief Minister was using the virus outbreak to stifle genuine protests.
However, on Tuesday, the Chief Minister came to his customary sunset COVID-19 briefing armed with specifics. He provided figures to show that what his government had feared, a sudden spurt in infection in the police force, has happened.
The Chief Minister said that in the last few days 101 of policemen sent to control these opposition protests across the state had contracted the virus. The number includes one DySP, one inspector, 12 sub-inspectors, 8 assistant sub-inspectors and 71 civil police officers.
The colleagues of these infected policemen, too, have been put out of work. 164 policemen are now considered primary contacts and 171 are under observation. "This is hampering the state's attempts to rein in the COVID-19 outbreak," the Chief Minister said.
He said that the agitators were violating all COVID-19 guidelines like social distancing. "when the opposition parties indulge in thoughtless protests, the police cannot do their job adhering to social distancing norms. They will have to go close to the protesters and interact with them," Vijayan said.
The Chief Minister hinted that the opposition were being insensitve to the police. "The police is a force working tirelessly to prevent the spread of COVID in our land. There should be an introspection on whether we are trying to repay them for their selfless deeds by giving them COVID. They are also human. It is high time we realised that there is nothing more valuable than human lives," the Chief Minister said.
On the other hand, the opposition leaders complain about police high-handedness. “The police action against agitators is ruthless like never before. They are targeting the heads of protesters. We have pictures to prove that,” said Youth Congress state president Shafi Parambil.
Nonetheless, like in the preceding days, the Chief Minister ruled out a ban on these protests. "It impossible to deny the right to protest in a democratic society," he said. "But those protesting should desist from putting an entire society a risk," he added.
Vijayan also said such manner of agitations were persisted with because only they attract media attention.
The Chief Minister was particularly critical of the agitations taken out in Thiruvananthapuram where COVID is raging. He said that 18 percent (7047) of the active cases in Kerala (39,258) were in the capital district. The deaths, too, were higher in Thiruvananthapuram; 32 percent (175) of the 553 deaths were in the district.
"It is in this context that we should view the agitations taking place in Thiruvananthapuram during the last few days,” he said.