Kerala’s capital Thiruvananthapuram was placed under a weeklong ‘triple lockdown’ starting July 6 after several Covid-19 cases turned up without a specific origin of infection. This has led to fears of a local transmission of the virus within the city.
The areas falling under the jurisdiction of the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation will witness an effective containment strategy devised by the Kerala Police seeking to suspend the movement of the public and allow more time for health officials to carry out contact tracing measures. The ‘triple lockdown’ strategy entails focused interventions by the police at three different levels to minimise the impact of the community spread, if present, or prevent it altogether.
The first lock is a general containment strategy to prevent the movement of the people all over the area. Except for one road for entry/exit, all other roads and bylanes leading to the area are shut down using barricades and police officers posted for security. Public transport is suspended. Private transport is allowed only for essential purposes.
While grocery, vegetable stores and medical shops are allowed to operate, the public are advised to remain at home and call helpline numbers for doorstep delivery of services. Police officials and volunteers will engage in such services. People stepping out of their homes for essential reasons must carry signed declaration forms stating why they are outside. Police officers will verify such documents and allow them if found valid. Criminal cases and fines will be imposed if people are found violating the lockdown without valid reasons. Movement of trucks carrying essential supplies, medical personnel, journalists, defence and health personnel, taxis ferrying people from railway stations and airports will be allowed. Government offices, religious places and educational institutions will remain shut.
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The second lock is on the specific geographical areas called clusters where primary and secondary contacts of the infected persons are staying in quarantine. These are essentially containment zones where there will be intensified police presence.
The third lock involves much more focused intervention on the households of the infected persons and well as those of their primary and secondary contacts. These are persons who are at greater risk of transmitting the virus to a large number of people. While those who test positive are ferried off to hospitals, asymptomatic primary or secondary contacts are monitored strictly so that they don’t step out of home.
The Kerala Police have devised different ways to do this. One involves guards posted outside such households at all times. Motorcycle patrols by policemen will also be carried out. Physical verification of those under quarantine is ensured thrice a day. Aerial surveillance is maintained with the help of drones. CCTV cameras of nearby shops and establishments are also routed to the police control room. A mobile app – Covid Safety – developed in-house is used by police with the consent of those under quarantine to track their movements using geo-location. If he/she moves 50 metres away from their home, the police will get an alert. An SOS button has also been installed in the app through which the public can seek assistance of the police.
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The ‘triple lockdown’ strategy was implemented successfully in Kasaragod district in April and helped bring down the number of active cases in the district by 94% within three weeks.
The tough lockdown conditions have been placed in Thiruvananthapuram after health officials observed that numerous cases of Covid-19 are propping up across the city without an epidemiological link. Densely-populated and home to the state’s political power, an eruption in cases on the scale of Mumbai or Delhi can quickly overwhelm the local health infrastructure, officials fear. The city also continues to receive a large number of people from abroad and other states in the country who are also testing positive a few days after arrival.
The pattern of the spurt in the new infections without a clear origin has compelled the Kerala government to order that all safety guidelines of Covid-19 such as wearing masks in public, using sanitisers and the limit on attendance at marriages and funerals will remain in place until July 2021. Health officials have been getting signals that with the state now entering the seventh month of Covid-19 (the first case was reported in January), there has been disenchantment among the public in following basic guidelines like practicing social distancing and wearing masks.
Every day, the police are booking individuals and confiscating their vehicles for violating lockdown measures. Fines are also imposed routinely on those not wearing masks. The guidelines, extended for the next one year, will ensure that the public remain vigilant about the situation.
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