Kerala police check covid
Police personnel stop commuters during the weekend lockdown at Palayam in Thiruvananthapuram on Saturday, April 24, 2021. Image Credit: ANI

Thiruvananthapuram: Amid the rising COVID-19 cases in the state, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said a complete lockdown may be imposed in the districts with a high positivity rate from May 4.

"The surge in the COVID cases shows that the situation in the state is going worse. In this context, the interventions have been strengthened at all levels. Apart from the restrictions announced earlier, a full lockdown may have to be imposed in some districts where the Test Positivity Rate is exceeding 50 per cent. We will be going for more stringent restrictions from May 4," Vijayan said while addressing media personnel on Friday.

Essential services only

The Chief Minister said that during the lockdown only essential services will be allowed.

"Banks will function till 2 pm (only till 1 pm for the public). Government offices, both state and central, handling only emergency services, will be functional. Shops selling essential items will be open. Only takeaways and home delivery will be allowed from hotels and restaurants. However, there will be no restrictions on freight movement and for those who travel by air or rail," he said.

"Attendance at religious places should be restricted to a maximum of 50 people subject to available space. Ration shops and civil supplies stores will be open," he added.

According to official data, Kerala reported 37,199 new cases of COVID-19, 49 deaths in the last 24 hours.

"As many as 149,487 samples were tested in the last 24 hours. The positivity rate of the state stands at 24.88 per cent. The active cases in the state stand at 3,03,733," the data said.

Vijayan further said, "However, LSG bodies (local governments) should not declare lockdown on their own as it would not stand legally. Restrictions are being imposed by declaring Section 144 in places where cases are on the high. There may be further restrictions based on that. Only the National Disaster Management Authority, the State Disaster Management Authority, the District Disaster Management Authority, the Chief Secretary, the Revenue Secretary, and the District Collector (District Magistrate) have the power to issue these orders depending on the circumstances."

He said that strict restrictions will be imposed in areas declared as containment zones.

"This can be further strengthened by dividing the micro containment zones into clusters as it was done in the Kottayam district", the CM added.

Double-masking and oxygen war rooms

The Chief Minister also requested the people to use double masks.

"Studies have found that the spread of COVID-19 was controlled in various parts of the world where the use of masks was strictly enforced. It is important to use double masks when you step outside your home. Double masks do not mean wearing two cloth masks but instead placing a cloth mask after wearing a surgical mask. If we wear masks like this and wash our hands frequently, we can prevent the disease to a large extent," he said.

He urged individuals, celebrities and organisations to come forward to make people aware of the importance of wearing masks. Vijayan said that the government will take strong legal action against those who spread misinformation.

Vijayan, while addressing the media, announced that oxygen war rooms are being set up in all districts.

"There will be an oxygen war room at the state level also. Issues that cannot be resolved at the district level will be handled at the state-level war room," he said.

"The required number of beds, ICU beds, ventilators and ambulance has been increased. The manpower resources in the health sector are also being strengthened along with the facilities. In this way, the government is trying to guard the state with maximum measures to ensure the safety of the people", he added.

May 1 vaccine drive for all adults

India was due Saturday to open up its jumbo vaccination drive to all adults, but many states don't have the stocks as hospitals reel from a vicious Covid surge. Less then two months ago the health minister said India was in the "end game" of the pandemic as New Delhi sent millions of vaccines to dozens of countries.

Now the world's second-most populous nation is the epicentre of the global outbreak with almost 400,000 cases and more than 3,000 deaths every day. Exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine by India's Serum Institute and of Bharat Biotech's homegrown Covaxin have now been frozen to prioritise India's needs.

Until now, only "frontline" workers like medical staff, people over 45 and those with existing illnesses have been given vaccines.

But even this more modest programme has faltered, with some areas running out of shots and others throwing them away because of a lack of demand, in part because of the recent surge.

"The queues here are so colossal," said Jayanti Vasant as he waited for hours at a busy vaccination centre in Mumbai this week. "The people are just fighting amongst themselves."

So far around 150 million shots have been administered, equating to 11.5 percent of the population of 1.3 billion people. Just 25 million have had two shots.

Fear and confusion

On Saturday the programme will be expanded to all Indians over 18, equating to around 600 million people. Millions of younger people terrified by the current situation and desperate to get inoculated have registered on the government's digital platform. But very few of them have been given appointments and many states including the capital New Delhi, Maharashtra and Punjab have said they don't have enough stocks.

The megacity of Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra, on Thursday halted all vaccinations for three days because it had run out. Further confusion has been created by New Delhi's decision to ask states and private hospitals to order vaccine supplies on their own, creating a three-tier pricing system that requires them to pay more per dose than the central government. This has led to squabbles between the central government, run by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, and states governed by opposition parties.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that some private clinics have been told they won't receive any vials for months. "The whole thing looks like a confused elephant to me right now," said T Jacob John, a retired clinical virology professor at the Christian Medical College Vellore.

"Do you want to control the epidemic, save lives or both? If you want both you'll require a huge amount of vaccines. And we don't have it," John told AFP. He and other experts say that given the shortages, and its colossal population, India should have a much more targeted policy, concentrating vaccinations in hotspots.

Gujarat is among the few states to have said they would do so, with chief minister Vijay Rupani saying Friday that vaccinations for over-18s would happen only in the 10 worst-hit districts. Serum is making 60-70 million AstraZeneca doses per month, and is aiming for 100 million by July. Bharat is aiming to produce 10 million a month and targets 60-70 million.

Indian firms also have deals to produce other shots including Russia's Sputnik V - some doses of which were due to arrive soon - and Johnson & Johnson's single-dose vaccine, but it could be months until these are deployed.

- ANI, Reuters