The threat of COVID-19 outbreak hangs like the proverbial Damocles Sword over Kerala, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said.
“Kerala is still in the danger zone. The peril of the virus spreading rapidly in the community is very real. People should remain indoors and venture out only if there is a pressing reason. We should ensure that the sword does not fall on our head or chest because of our design,” he said.
The State government had no choice but to tighten social restrictions further, he said. The Cabinet would give more teeth to law enforcers to enforce social distancing norms imperative to control the outbreak by amending the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, through an ordinance.
The provisions of the new law would give the government power to close the State’s borders, seal places of worship, regulate gatherings, restrict socialising, ban traffic, close down educational institutions, shut hostels and hotels, and arrest those who endanger public health and exert extreme control over civic life in the event of an outbreak.
Mr Vijayan said the economic distress caused by the lockdown could foment hunger. The State had ordered Local Self Government Institutions (LSGIs) to start community kitchens at the panchayat and municipality ward levels to ensure that no one suffered due to hunger or want of medicine. He had earlier announced free rations for all ration cardholders.
Volunteers in protective gear would reach the food and also medicines, if necessary, to the homes of the poor, aged, and chronically ill.
Government agencies should give priority to the welfare of cancer patients, those requiring dialysis, and also citizens suffering from heart diseases.
LSGIs should start helpline numbers so that citizens could request assistance at any hour. The CM said the State would bring homeless persons and those who sleep rough on pavements and shop verandahs under its safety net. LSGIs should open specialised centres for transgender people who could not provide for themselves.
The government would intervene forcefully to curb hoarding and price rise, the CM said. It had talked with its counterparts in neighbouring States to ensure that vegetables, fruits, eggs, milk and poultry continue to be freighted to Kerala from other regions without any hurdles at border check posts.
Mr Vijayan also ordered the closure of toddy shops. He said people need not be “distressed”. He hinted that the government might find a way to ensure the availability of liquor in the legal market in due course.
The Kerala State Pharmaceutical Development Corporation could forego tender norms to procure the raw material required for making hand sanitisers and other common medicines from the open market.
The government had prioritised the procurement of paddy. Collectors would monitor harvesting activities using machines in Palakkad, Kottayam, Thrissur and Alappuzha. They would also ensure that the harvested grain stalks reached rice mills in time for processing.
He said welfare pensions would reach 57 lakh beneficiaries on March 27. Government warehouses in Kerala had food grains to last eight months. The government would ensure the adequate supply of pulses, edible oil and other essential provisions, he said.
The government has declared the Excise department, local bodies, municipal corporation, forest department, and horticultural corporation as essential services.