Under attack from Opposition parties and traders over prolonged lockdown restrictions for some time, the Kerala government on Wednesday announced easing of the curbs, imposed in the state in view of the spread of COVID-19.
As per the new guideline, shops, markets, banks, offices, financial institutions, factories, industrial establishments, open tourist spaces, and other establishments can function six days a week from Monday to Saturday.
To avoid crowding, all shops and other establishments can operate from 7 am to 9 pm and the fresh relaxations would come into effect from August 5, the order, issued by Chief Secretary V P Joy, said.
The expert opinions in the matter and the concerns regarding the effect of a prolonged closure of establishments on livelihood have been considered by the government for lifting the curbs, he said in the order. Earlier, announcing the relaxations in the state Assembly, Health Minister Veena George said a general suggestion that came up before the government was to adopt another scientific criterion along with the Test Positivity Rate (TPR).
As part of this, it has been decided that the number of newly diagnosed cases per 1000 people of the total population should be considered, she said. Concerns of a third wave of the pandemic are still persisting and the objective of the government is to vaccinate the maximum number of people before it, she said.
"We can effectively check the further spread of the COVID pandemic by building social immunity through providing vaccines to the maximum number of people," she told the House. As per the new guidelines, all establishments in the public sector, including government offices, PSUs, companies, autonomous organizations, commissions, etc. would also be allowed to function from Monday to Saturday.
It is permitted to conduct all competitive, recruitment, and university examinations/sports trials. However, schools, colleges, cinema halls, in-house dining in hotels and restaurants, and so on would continue to remain closed, it said adding that malls can be permitted to open only for online delivery and educational institutions can be opened for imparting online education only.
Despite relaxation, the government decided to impose special intensified stringent lockdown restrictions in the LSGIs with critical spread based on the Weekly Infection Population Ratio (WIPR) considering the increased positive cases. WIPR is the total number of COVID-19 infections reported in the week multiplied by 1000 divided by the total population of the panchayat or urban ward.
The government also wanted all shops, tourism centers, and other establishments to display the status of vaccination of employees and the number of customers permitted at a time. It shall be the responsibility of the owner of such establishments to avoid crowding inside and outside the shop and the enforcement agencies will conduct checks and take action to ensure this.
Accommodation facilities like hotels, resorts, etc would be allowed in a bio-bubble model in all areas on all days. Though the restrictions on public functions, social, cultural, and political gatherings would continue, marriages and funerals would be allowed with the participation of maximum of 20 people. Places of worship shall strictly limit the maximum number of people to 40 with each person having a minimum of 25 sq.ft area. For lesser area, the maximum number of persons shall be reduced proportionately, it said.
As per the order, only persons who have taken at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine before two weeks, or who are in possession of RT-PCR negative certificate taken 72 hours before or who is in possession of COVID-19 positive results more than a month old, would be allowed inside shops, banks, and other establishments.
However, the Health Minister earlier said in the House that it is "desirable" that those visiting shops get at least one dose of vaccine, having RT-PCR negative certificate received within 72 hours or those recovered from the infection within a month. She said shops would remain open and curbs would be eased on August 15 and 22 through the days fall on Sunday, considering the Independence Day and the Onam festival rush respectively, she said. However, the health minister urged the shops and business establishments to make special arrangements to avoid the rush and ensure social distancing in their premises on account of the festival season.
On the high daily positive cases, the Minister said the second wave of the infection had started a little late in the state and 56 per cent of Kerala's total population are still not infected.
"So, chances are high for the increased daily positive cases in Kerala compared to other states," the minister said, adding that the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic is decreasing in the state. The number of patients seeking treatment at hospitals and those needing ICU support has dwindled, she said while replying during the Question Hour session in the Assembly.
"The hospital occupancy and ICU occupancy has decreased in the state now-a--days. That means, the severity of the disease is decreasing," George said. The LDF government had been facing severe criticism fromthe opposition parties and traders in the state for some timeover its continuing pandemic-induced curbs. The UDF opposition even raised the social and financial implications of the prolonged lockdown and the sufferings of people, who lost their livelihood meansdue to the COVID spread and the pandemic induced cubs, multiple times in the Assembly.