Enforcing COVID protocol gets tougher, say sector magistrates

While COVID-19 cases remain on the rise, enforcing pandemic-related protocol in public places has become increasingly difficult with penalties like fines often proving to be ineffective in some cases, according to sector magistrates in the district.

Alertness to protocol like distancing, and the use of thermal scanners, sanitisers and masks in shops and other establishments, had dipped in the city, with even bank branches failing to adhere to requirements such as checking temperature and wearing masks within the premises, said E.K. Lal, sector magistrate for Kadavanthra, Thrikkakara and Palarivattom.

A fine of ₹500 is imposed in the case of violations by an individual, while establishments are charged a fine of ₹3,000. Often, larger establishments were willing to pay fines without introducing any corrective measures, he added.

Nearly 1,600 offences were registered on January 29, followed by over 1,400 on January 30. A total of 15 sector magistrates were newly appointed in the district in January, with each magistrate holding charge of three or four police station limits.

While it might still be possible to ensure that people wear masks in public spaces, ensuring distancing had become nearly impossible, said Sreejesh P.R., magistrate for the Ernakulam north and central areas, and Mulavukad. In shops in the central areas of the city and markets, distancing had gone for a toss, he said. In some cases, inspections had ensured that protocol was followed at least in the past few weeks, he added.

Maintaining registers of visitors to establishments had also largely been neglected, said Navas C.A., magistrate for the Thrippunithura, Udayamperoor and Ambalamedu areas. There were repeat offenders as well, but the threat of having to pay a fine had worked to some extent, he added.

Joseph Cherian, magistrate for Eloor, Cheranalloor, Kalamassery and Elamakkara, said enforcing protocol in places like malls, particularly in food courts, large stores and warehouses, was no longer feasible. “People might adhere to directions as soon as they are told, but will return to their old ways in no time,” he said. Smaller shops had been attempting to adhere to protocol, but large crowds of customers had been difficult for them to handle, he added.

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