Unlike other states, Kerala has been able to weather a recent surge in cases while keeping deaths to a minimum, allowing it to give a number of relaxations to the public. But as cases have shown a resurgence, especially from undetectable sources of infection, the leaders have been rethinking their hands-off approach.
The Kerala government has brought an amendment to an extraordinary ordinance requiring, for another year, or until the further announcement, face-covering in public mandatory. It also prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people for all kinds of protests, 20 people for shopping and funerals, 50 people for marriage, as officials and public health experts worried the virus could spread through the crowded gatherings. The move might severely pause the normal reopenings of bars, gyms and movie theaters.
The ordinance, ‘Kerala Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020’, has also made it mandatory to register vehicles of interstate passengers for another year, pausing the regular operation of both private and public interstate transport services.
The amendment has also allowed local police to set stricter punishments for breaking prohibitory orders— as well as social distancing orders and anti-spitting rules— resulting in a maximum fine of up to ₹10,000 and a jail term of two years. However, it makes the offences compounded if requested.
Kerala’s contact tracing system has been largely still effective, but is on the edge of snapping as the coronavirus is seen spreading to the countryside. There has been a steep resurgence in infections where the source of infection is still undetected, totalling to nearly 60 so far. Fresh infections to lottery vendors, fishermen and others— who have no known exposure or contact to other covid-19 patients— worry the state of clusters of community spread.
On Sunday, the state reported 225 new infections, a little lower than the state’s single-day record of 240 cases noted a day ago. It has 2,228 active cases so far. On Sunday, 117 patients are returnees from foreign countries and 57 recently returned from interstate travel. But 38 infected through local contacts, 22 of them in the capital city, Thiruvananthapuram, alone.
“Thiruvananthapuram is sitting on the top of a volcano just about to explode,” said Kadakampally Surendran, Minister for Tourism and the city-in charge, to reporters. “We are seeing a surge in cases infected from local contacts and if we don’t apply vigil, things might go out of control. People should avoid unnecessary travel, gatherings, and use masks,” he said.
Cases are trending upward in all 14 districts of Kerala, and regularly reaching new single-day records. City suburbs that were untouched by the virus previously, such as the fishing villages like Mattancherry in Kochi and Poonthura in Thiruvananthapuram, are some of the latest hotspots, which are also hubs of urban poverty and heavily congested places.
The Indian Medical Association’s state chapter has told the government that the state has already reached the level of community spread, but the officials opposed it. “The standard definition of community spread is when you have multiple clusters where the source of infections cannot be traced. The percentage of coronavirus patients who were infected through local contacts has hovered around 2% so far (up from less than one in early June). But we have to maintain high vigil,” said Mohammed Asheel, chief of Kerala Social Security Mission, to a vernacular news channel.
Kerala’s death toll is still one of the lowest among Indian states, but has been slowly climbing higher in the last few weeks, including one death on the day, to reach 25 on Sunday. The increased cases are also in parallel to the abundance of testing, from around 3000 daily tests to an average of around 8000 last week.