Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala has issued updated guidelines under the Covid protocol, making it mandatory for everyone to wear masks, maintain social distancing and avoid large gatherings for the next one year, indicating it will be a long protracted fight against the pandemic.
The new guidelines include punitive measures such as a fine of Rs 10,000 for not wearing a mask and strict enforcement of curbs on the number of people allowed to take part in funerals, weddings and other functions.
The new rules put renewed stress on social distancing, which people have tended to take lightly of late. The state’s early success in its anti-Covid drive had a lot to do with the strict adherence to civic discipline.
The announcement comes in the wake of a consistent spike in infection through contacts, which is threatening to derail Kerala’s fight against the virus.
In one week alone, over 150 cases of infection, either through contacts or from unidentifiable sources, have been reported, which is a clear indication of community spread taking hold. Out of the 27 new cases in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday, as many as 22 are cases of infection through contacts.
Most of these cases have been reported from areas that were earlier declared containment zones, which is another indication of the spread of community infection. It is extremely worrisome that 14 of those who tested positive do not have any travel history and are mostly young people.
The situation is particularly alarming in Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi, considered as the commercial capital of the state, which are bracing for a triple lockdown to deal with the dangerous turn in the situation, with some of the markets already closed.
Kadakampalli Surendran, minister in charge of Thiruvananthapuram, said the capital was ‘sitting on a volcano, which can erupt any time’. But he said there is no community spread yet, although it cannot be ruled out.
Health experts have been warning that people, particularly in urban centres, were throwing caution to the wind and crowding public places, behaving as if the Covid pandemic has been brought under control.
The Kerala unit of Indian Medical Association, the organisation of doctors, has officially conveyed to the state government that community spread has begun. It cites the increase in the number of asymptomatic cases as well as instances of health workers not involved in treating Covid patients contracting the disease, as clear indications of community spread.
Those who tested positive include a fish seller, a medical representative, who would have come into contact with a large number of doctors, and a Zomato delivery boy. All food deliveries have been stopped in view of the high risk, while antigen tests are set to be conducted for all types of delivery agents.
In Ernakulam, in six out of 13 new cases on Saturday, it has not been possible to identify the source of infection. The infected include a student, a scrap collector, an LIC agent, a housewife, a lady naval staffer and an auto driver. It is indeed a challenge to draw up a proper contact list of these people.
Another worrying development for the state is the instance of re-infection. Two persons returning from Abu Dhabi and Sharjah have tested positive in the past three days, although they had recovered from the disease. Health experts express the fear that the virus may have remained dormant in the body, although both had tested negative after their Covid infection.