Under attack from the Opposition and traders over prolonged lockdwon restrictions for some time, 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 in a week from Monday to Saturday between 7 am and 9 pm.
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 5 August (Thursday), the order, issued by Chief Secretary VP Joy, said.
The expert opinions in the matter and the concerns regarding the effect of 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 criteria 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.
Who all will be allowed to resume work
As per the new guidelines, all establishments in the public sector, including government offices, PSUs, companies, autonomous organisations, 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.
Schools, colleges, restaurants to remain shut
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
Strict restrictions at local body-level based on WIPR
Despite relaxation, the government decided to impose special intensified stringent lockdown restrictions in the Local Self Government Institutions (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 total population of the panchayath or urban ward.
Govt allows opening of tourist spaces
The government also wanted all shops, tourism centres 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.
People allowed in marriages and other gatherings
Though the restrictions on public functions, social, cultural and political gatherings would continue, marriages and funerals would be allowed with participation of maximum 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
Kerala relaxes curbs, but with a test rider
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
Curbs to be eased on 15 and 22 August
She said shops would remain open and curbs would be eased on 15 and 22 August though 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 rush and ensure social distancing in their premises on account of festival season.
56% of Kerala's population not affected by COVID-19: Govt
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 percent 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 from the Opposition 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.
With inputs from PTI