As COVID cases surge, CM calls all-party meet

An all-party meeting to be convened by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Tuesday will weigh the public health benefit against the economic and social risk of a proposal to reintroduce lockdown-like curbs on life, travel, and trade to fence in the worrying increase in COVID-19 cases in parts of the State.

Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala indicated on Monday that the United Democratic Front (UDF) would back the government’s COVID-19 control measures. The UDF has suspended anti-government street protests and party programmes requiring mass attendance given the gravity of the situation, he said.

Mr. Vijayan blamed the “surge” on the mass assembly of persons, a general lack of compliance with wearing masks, and maintaining a physical distance in public.

Funerals and marriages had become giant Petri dishes for the virus to multiply and spread. Well-attended social settings and assemblage of people in large numbers had spawned outbreaks and clusters across the State.

Curbs likely

The government might be constrained to impose restrictions on non-essential activities and non-emergency travel. The goal was to slow down the pandemic without going in for a debilitating lockdown.

The government had limited the number of persons who could attend a funeral to 20 and wedding to 50. It had increased the penalty for not wearing masks in public places. The administration would shut down shops and establishments which allow crowding.

The government would send gazetted rank officers with special powers to panchayats, corporations, and municipalities to ensure adherence to the COVID-19 protocol, he said.

Mr. Vijayan had conferred via video link with heads of departments, district magistrates, and District Police Chiefs earlier. The contagion had whittled down the number of doctors, health workers, and emergency responders available for active duty. The State could ill afford to squander away the gains it had made in keeping the contagion at bay. Any further dropping of guard against the disease would accelerate its spread and cause the plague to overwhelm the State’s finite healthcare resources.

Taluk-level curbs

An official said taluk level curbs were on the table for discussion. A total lockdown was unlikely. The local-level curbs proposed would act as a safety measure, a kind of electric circuit breaker, to stop the surge of infections. A total State-wide lockdown was unlikely, he said.

The pandemic had also come close to the heart of the governance. Ministers, the CM’s press secretary, and private secretary of Mr. Chennithala were among those infected. However, both leaders had not interacted with them at close quarters and hence did not require to go into quarantine.

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