Having coming up with a three-stage lockdown exit strategy which got much countrywide acclaim, the state government in Kerala abruptly withdrew some of the lockdown relaxations it had announced, causing some confusion and chaos.
As per the relaxation proposed by the state government, people were allowed to go out in their private vehicles on odd-even number basis in the Orange B and green categories starting April 20th. There were proposals to allow barber shops to open and function. Hotels and restaurants were allowed to open and permit customers to dine at the hotel from 9 am to 7 pm.
Both these relaxations, however, were quickly withdrawn in Trivandrum, which has been designated as a hotspot. As of now hotels, can give food packets as parcels only. Barbers can go to the customer’s house to offer their service. Pillion riding was allowed in the earlier proposal. But now the Government says only one person can travel by two-wheelers. The withdrawal came within a couple of hours of the Centre writing to the state government, saying the relaxations violated Central guidelines.
Given its success in handling and containment of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Left Front government hoped to give maximum relief from the nearly month long lockdown to citizens particularly in the green and orange zones. But as the relaxation came into effect on April 20th, people in large numbers started flooding the city streets in violation of the general lockdown restrictions.
Taking serious note of such violations, Union Home secretary Ajaykumar Bhalla strongly cautioned CM Pinarayi Vijayan against lowering its guard against the pandemic. Bhalla in his letter alleged that the state government had allowed relaxations without consulting the centre or seeking its approval.
Districts have been classified into four categories to denote the severity of COVID-19 at those places:
|Red: Most vulnerable
Complete lockdown till May 3
Complete lockdown till April 24; partial relaxation after that
Partial relaxation since April 20
Relaxation allowed since April 20
Meanwhile, residents of Trivandrum, and suburban areas, took the relaxation as a nod to get back to how it was before the corona outbreak. The sudden outpouring of people onto the roads caused traffic bottlenecks at different parts of the city on April 20th. In fact, the capital city is a hot spot, though Thiruvananthapuram district as a whole is categorised as Orange zone, according to district officials.
“Though the odd-even number plate rule came into effect in rural areas, vehicles that reached the city were turned back,” said Sovi Vidyadharan, a resident at Nettayam under the Corporation limit. “This created huge traffic block in city roads”.
Data mix up
It was a mix of the data by the LSG that had led to some hotspots being designated as Orange-B zones and some green zones being designated as hot spots. While the health department authorities shared details of COVID positive people and those under home quarantine and those admitted to hospitals with the state health authorities, they did not include these details in the system on a daily basis, forcing the revenue department to categorise areas based on old data. To clear up the resultant confusion, the chief secretary had to issue a fresh notification withdrawing the relaxations on vehicular traffic in Thiruvananthapuram.
Police have now clarified that Maruthoor under the Mannanthala police station, Vetturoad under Kazhakkoottam police station, Vazhayila under Peroorkada, Kundamonkadavu under Poojappura, Pravachambalam under Nemom and Mulkkola under Vizhinjam Police Station will be the entry-exit points to the city. All other roads have been closed down. Police have also intensified checking within the city after noticing increasing cases of lockdown violations.
“As the city has been categorised as a hot spot, the lock down restrictions will continue,” said Police commissioner Balram Kumar Upadhyaya. “On April 20th alone, 118 cases were registered and 93 vehicles were seized.” While in the surrounding rural areas, 358 cases were registered for lockdown violations and 356 people arrested and around 302 vehicles seized, according to rural police chief B Ashok. The police later clarified that medical cases will be allowed after checking the documents.
“The confusion was entirely the state government’s creation,” said Subodh, who runs a restaurant called Rasam in the city. “Only those who are stranded in the city are asking for food, and they need only parcels.”
Subodh said even if the government allowed restaurants to function normally, there would be problems in ensuring supply of provisions. “We cannot run the restaurant by purchasing branded essentials from super markets as it would be too costly for small time restaurants,” added Subodh. “There has been an increase of Rs.5.75 per kilo of raw rice. We will have to depend on the wholesale merchants of Chalai (in the city). Similarly, without sufficient number of workers, restaurants cannot be run. But we will start preparing breakfast meant for parcel service (takeaway) from April 22nd.”
Raju, a native of Malayinkeezhu working at Pulimoodu Junction in the city said since the lock down he was depending on the frugal meal he made himself. “No hotel has opened here,” said Raju. “We hoped that restaurants would be open from April 20th. But it did not happen”.
“People are aware of the serious nature of the pandemic and are ready to wait till the atmosphere becomes congenial for travel and normal interactions,” said Vibhooshanan nair, a document writer from the West fort area of the capital who says he is not at all affected by the lockdown. “The state government should not try to create confusion.”