Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala on Tuesday scaled up the protocol to deal with the Covid-19 threat to nearly a state-wide lock-down, with the government declaring a public health emergency.
The high alert comes in the wake of the total number of cases in the state doubling to 12 from the earlier six.
All public functions across the state being cancelled or regulated while all educational institutions will remain closed throughout this month. Secondary and higher secondary examination will be held as planned, but with all precautions, including isolation of students suffering health issues.
The restrictions are applicable to all schools, including CBSE, professional colleges, coaching centres and parallel educational institutions.
The government has sought the cooperation of religious groups, communities, organisations, associations to avoid all functions that would involve gathering of crowds. All festivals, social and cultural events, family engagements will be stripped down to minimum, avoiding gathering of people. All official functions have been cancelled until further notice.
All cinema theatres and cultural centres will similarly cease operations for the month. The restrictions will also affect pilgrimage to Sabarimala, which falls in the most affected district of Pathanamthitta, as the temple authorities have been advised to carry on with essential pujas and rituals, but discourage congregation of devotees.
Private functions, including weddings, funerals and anniversaries would be observed with only limited participation. There will be no community feasts or receptions. The idea is to avoid all kinds of get-togethers so that the risk of the virus spreading is eliminated.
The state cabinet held a special meeting in view of the emergency and reviewed the measures required to be taken to contain the outbreak.
The high alert follows the failure of a three-member family coming from virus-affected Italy to report to the health authorities and interacting with a large number of people before they were admitted to hospital and tested positive to coronavirus.
Two more persons, identified as friends of the affected family, have been tested positive, taking the total number of cases falling out of the incident to seven. Both have been under observation in the isolation ward at the district hospital in Kozhencherry.
With this, a total of 12 cases have been reported throughout the state, half of them in Pathanamthitta, where the family coming from Italy interacted with a large number of people before they were confined to the isolation wards.
As many as 270 people who came into contact with the Italy-returned family have been identified and are in the process of being isolated. Overall, about 775 persons in the Pathanamthitta district are under observation either in hospitals or homes.
Another family returning from Italy is also under observation after a three-year old child was tested positive. The parents, along with the child, have been admitted to the isolation ward at Kalamassery Medical College near Ernakaulam when the child tested positive at the airport screening. A large number of people, either co-passengers of the same flight, or other who came into contact with them are being identified.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told a news conference after the special cabinet meeting that as many as 1216 cases are under observation throughout the state. Of them 149 are in hospitals while the remaining are confined to their homes with a special isolation protocol in force.
So far, 807 samples have been referred to virology tests, out of which the results in 717 were found to be negative.
Religious and community leaders had already advised their followers to cancel all big congregations in view of the virus threat. Churchgoers have also been advised to refrain from physical contact during the Sign of Peace, the liturgical practice during the service when parishioners usually greet each other with a handshake, hug or a kiss on the cheek. They are encouraged instead to bow, and also take the communion wafer by hand.