By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The look of concern is back on the faces of the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) leaders. The reason for their worry is the sudden spike in the Covid positive cases in the wake of the return of Indians stranded in foreign countries.
The last two days have witnessed an increase of 42 cases, threatening to undo all the good work done by the health department in the state.
In this connection, the fears voiced by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan at the video conference Prime Minister Narendra Modi held with the Chief Ministers the other day have come true. The Kerala CM had sounded a note of caution: all the returnees should be made to undergo antibody tests at the boarding point. Otherwise, there is every possibility of the passengers getting infected.
That this has not been done is clear from the developments since then. As many as 11 returnees tested positive after they landed in Kerala land and had to be hospitalized.
Adding insult to injury is the rise in positive cases in Kasaragod district, which had become Covid-free on May 10. The district has now reported 14 positive cases already. This is the direct result of irresponsible conduct of some people in the district. The excellent job done by the health staff, police and the collector in ridding the district of covid-19 has been undone.
Among those who are responsible for the sad state of affairs in Kasaragod is a CPI(M) couple who tested positive. A large number of people who had contacted them have been placed under observation to avoid a community spread.
Understandably, stricter restrictions are back in place. The Police and the district collector have swung into action to ensure that things do not get out of control. The district is back in the red zone, and will remain there for a considerable length of time.
Likewise, the situation in Mananthawadi taluk in Wayanad district is also extremely serious. The Vellamunda panchayat in the taluk has been shut down completely. Two panchayats are already under total lockdown. These tough steps have been necessitated by the contacts made by a few infected policemen. Severe curbs will be in place in Batheri as well.
Meanwhile, the Centre has insisted on a 14-day quarantine at Government-controlled facilities for all returnees. The Kerala Government had held earlier that only a seven-day quarantine at government facilities is necessary. The Centre is right in insisting on a 14-day quarantine as the experience with home quarantine in the State has not been good.
More testing centres: The return of Indians stranded in foreign countries has also forced the State Government to set up more testing centres. At present, there are only 21 testing centres – 15 under government control and 6 in the private sector. Now the government is planning to increase the number of testing centres to at least 30.
BevCo outlets to be opened: Another move which is causing concern is the decision to open the beverage outlets owned by the Beverages Corporation (BevCo) from Monday under strict restrictions on social distancing. Special retail counters will be opened at bars to sell liquor at BevCo prices. Clubs having licence will not, however, be allowed to open. The cess being planned to be levied on liquor ranging from 10 to 35 per cent will mean the tipplers will have to shell out more money to buy liquor.
Fund crunch stumps State: The State is also gravely concerned at the failure of the Centre to release the GST and other arrears due to the States. Paucity of funds has severely crippled the States’ capacity to finance the battle against covid-19. The unwrapping by the Finance Minister of the financial package announced by the Prime Minister has also not seen the grant of any funds to the States so far.
The package itself has come as a bit of a letdown for the States. The main reason for their disappointment is that there is no move to transfer money directly to the affected migrant workers or farmers and other poor people who have borne the brunt of the consequences of the lockdown. It has left them penniless, jobless and facing an uncertain and grim future. True, grandiose schemes to help micro, medium and small industries, farmers, street vendors and other disadvantaged people have been unfolded. But the implementation of these schemes, mainly through banks, will take time.
The Government has not thought it fit to ensure direct transfer of money to the poorest of the poor – a step passionately advocated by eminent personalities, economic experts and Nobel Prize winners Amartya Sen and Abhijit Banerjee. And direct transfer of money to the most affected should have been accorded top priority by the Government. That it has not done so is a matter of deep disappointment and shock. (IPA Service)