COVID-19: Social distancing is back. Wearing masks made compulsory even inside cars

A police officer helps a little girl wear her mask. Photo: Manorama Online.

The Kerala government issued a set of regulations on January 12 making compulsory the use of masks and sanitisers, and the observance of social distancing in public places. These regulations, called the Kerala Epidemic Diseases Corona Virus Disease (COVID-19) Regulations, 2023, were issued on the basis of section 4 of the Kerala Epidemic Diseases Act, 2021.

Section 4 of the Act grants the government the power to take special measures and specify regulations to prevent the spread of epidemic diseases; in this case, COVID-19.

In fact, last August when there was a slight surge in COVID cases, the Health Department had issued a notification making the wearing of masks in public places compulsory for the next six months.

Though Health Department officials told Onmanorama that this was only an extension of the August regulation in view of the "explosive" situation in China, the August 2022 notification had not insisted on social distancing. No time limit, like in the August 2022 notification, has also not been given.

Regulations 2023 brings back social distancing, even if no restrictions have been clamped on public functions. It states that the public should observe social distancing at all public places and functions.

Apart from social distancing, Regulations 2023 has two more restrictions. One, wearing of masks. "In all public places, work spaces and in any areas accessible to the public and where there is a social gathering, and inside cars or while travelling, every one should cover their faces with masks," it says.

Two, use of sanitisers and soaps. "Sanitisers/soaps and water should be made available in all institutions, shops, theatres and venues of major events. It is the responsibility of the organisers/owners/hosts to provide customers/workers/guests/participants with such means of sanitation."

Offering a rationale for issuing the COVID Regulations 2023, the notification says: "The government has decided to clamp new restrictions in the light of the continued threat to public health from COVID-19."

Kerala had lifted Covid-containment measures on April 7, a fortnight after the Centre directed all states and Union Territories to consider the same.

The order issued by the government then, even while urging people to keep observing COVID-appropriate behaviour, had stated that the police would not be able to slap penalties for violation of norms.

It is not clear whether the police could now slap fines on violators. The 2023 Regulations is silent about the enforcement of these regulations.

The restrictions had been in place in Kerala and elsewhere in the country since March 2020.

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