Kerala Covid-19 Lockdown New Guidelines: From August 5, Thursday, onwards, a new set of lockdown restrictions and relaxations would be in place in Kerala, which is currently contributing 40 per cent to the country’s daily cases. The state is opening up at a time when the test positivity rate has been hovering above 10 per cent for the last 50 days.
The government has allowed the opening of all shops, markets, hotels, offices and commercial establishments from Monday to Saturday, from 7 am to 9 pm, to put businesses and livelihoods back on track. The relaxation, however, comes with a controversial condition — that only persons who have taken at least one dose of vaccine before two weeks or those possessing RT-PCR negative certificate obtained 72 hours before, or those who had been tested positive for covid-19 a month back, would be allowed inside the premises being opened up. This condition is binding on employees of an establishment and outsiders who visit such premises. The above condition, if the government sticks to it, is likely to create tension as police can inspect such premises for violation of Covid-19 protocol and slap fines on the public who do not possess Covid-negative certificates or do not comply with other norms.
In Kerala, as on August 3, only 56 per cent of the eligible population (above 18 years) have got at least one dose of vaccine.
Although the government has made several conditions for the public to move out, children need not meet such requirements to accompany adults to a market, open tourist spots or any other premises being opened from Thursday. Also, vaccination or RT-PCR negative certificate is not necessary for coming out of home for essential activities, COVID19 testing, vaccination, medical emergency, purchase of medicine, death of relatives, marriage of close relatives, local travel to catch long route bus/train/flight/ship, examinations, etc.
Colleges and schools cannot resume normal function, but university exams, recruitment exams, sports trials would be allowed. Malls can be opened for online delivery. Places of worship can admit a maximum of 40 persons, ensuring 25 square feet for a person. The number of attendees should be reduced further in tune with the size of the hall. Public transport would be allowed in full-seating capacity (45 seats normally) across Kerala, but only 20 persons would be allowed for marriages, funeral/cremation events. Resorts and hotels can operate allowing stay for guests, but only in a bio-bubble model, which ensures a group of people isolated from the outside world.
What is the Weekly Infection Population Ratio (WIPR0, which is the new basis for imposing restrictions?
From Thursday onwards, restrictions would be imposed at local bodies based on the weekly infection population ratio (WIPR). WIPR is the total number of Covid-19 infections reported in the week multiplied by 1,000 divided by total population of the panchayat or urban ward. In panchayats/urban wards with WIPR of more than 10, special intensified stringent lockdown restrictions shall be imposed. This new practice would shrink the containment zone into those local body wards/divisions, instead of the prevailing system of closing down an entire local body region based on the weekly TPR.
It was on June 15 that the state decided to open up after a nearly one-and-a-half month complete lockdown period. Local self-governing bodies were taken as the unit for implementing restrictions and weekly test positivity rate (TPR) at that particular local body area in a week was taken as the criteria. The number of tests conducted in a local body region and the positive cases fetched from those tests were factored into grading of the local bodies into A, B, C and D categories. Only those local bodies with less than 5 per cent of TPR were clubbed into A category and those having TPR above 15 per cent were in D category.
Normal life was allowed in areas which fall under A category, but the quantum of restrictions went up in B and C categories and completely shut down in D category. This TPR-based categorisation and containment strategy failed to fetch results and invited the wrath of people. For example, if high incidents of Covid-19 cases were reported from three or four divisions in a municipal region in a week, the entire municipal region, having 50 to 60 divisions, would be reckoned as a single unit and graded. This in effect impacted life in an entire local body area. Besides, local bodies started testing asymptomatic and even those turning up for vaccination, to bring down the TPR even as vulnerable remained away from reach of the health workers.
Despite the rising positive cases, the growing number of local bodies in D category over the last one and a half months showed that the TPR-based approach has gone wrong. On June 15, Kerala had only 12 local bodies in D category, that is those having TPR above 15 per cent. Last week, the figure of local bodies in the D category grew to 323.
Although Covid-19 cases have remained high in Kerala, the government, in its decision to ease lockdown restrictions, was forced to factor in the growing concern of traders. The long spell of second wave-induced lockdown, erratic business days due to TPR-based approach and disrupted supply chain have made traders restless. With the Onam festival two weeks away, the traders do not want to miss another shopping season, after having a troubled Onam season for three consecutive years now, owing to Covid-19 and floods. Even pro-CPI(M) traders’ outfit has threatened to resume normal functioning from next week if the government had failed to address their concerns.
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The government has decided to strengthen the grassroots-level Covid-19 control system with ASHA workers and volunteers for ensuring compliance of home isolation. Senior IAS officers, even those in the rank of additional chief secretary, have been rushed to districts to help the administration tackle the crisis. Containment zones have been brought under police control.
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