No second lockdown in Kerala but brace for higher penalties for COVID-19 violations

Kerala
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At the moment a second lockdown looks unlikely but the Kerala Government is gearing up to clamp down hard on COVID-19 protocol violations.

Violation of social distancing norms and non-wearing of masks will henceforth attract heavier penalties. A team of gazetted officers will soon be enlisted to monitor the preventive measures at the local body level.

"We are witnessing a massive surge in a short period. In such a situation, it is important to rein in the spread. We cannot allow this relaxed mood to go on," Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said during his customary sunset briefing in Thiruvananthapuram on Monday.

The Chief Minister said the prevention protocols were already in place. In a thinly veiled manner, the Chief Minister attributed the non-enforcement of these protocols to the political controversies that erupted in between and the mass protests that were unleashed by the opposition.

"The change in the atmosphere in Kerala had stood in the way of implementation," the Chief Minister said. "The police, which should have taken care of this, were forced to concentrate on law and order," he added.

But from now we have no time to wait, the Chief Minister said. "It is high time we moved to enforce strict controls," he said.

It has been decided to take an uncompromising approach against the violation of social distancing norms. If there is no social distancing inside a shop, the shop owner will be penalised.

The Chief Minister said such rigorous measures were planned even earlier but it could not be enforced because of what he repeatedly termed Kerala's "atmosphere". He was essentially saying that the government could not take action against shops violating social distancing norms when political parties were staging mass protests that did not give two hoots to social distancing.

However, with the UDF deciding to call off street protests, the ground has been prepared for the government to implement strict preventive measures.

Only a specific number of people will be allowed inside a shop at any given time, depending on the floor area of the shop. Those inside should strictly observe COVID-19 protocols like the use of masks and sanitisers. Those standing outside should wait in a queue with the prescribed distance in between, and for this standing areas will have to be marked outside the shop. Sanitisers should also be made available inside and outside the shops.

"Action will be taken against the shop for violations. They will even be asked to shut down," the Chief Minister said.

He said the earlier prescription of 50 people for marriages and 20 for funerals would be strictly enforced. "We had followed this restriction but now even these are being relaxed. This cannot be allowed as it is now clear that crowds are the main reason for the surge in virus spread and the formation of clusters," the Chief Minister said.

Stringent action would be taken against violations. And to monitor such preventive measures at the panchayat and municipality levels, a team of gazetted officers, in addition to those already doing COVID duty, would be drawn up. "They will also be given special powers," the Chief Minister said.

One gazetted officer will be in charge of one panchayat but there will be more officers in charge of a municipality and corporation.

Fines for not wearing masks will also be increased. The Chief Minister said that though there was a fine for not wearing masks, people were still found in public without masks.

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