Facing flak from Centre, Kerala to rollback some relaxations

After the Centre took strong objection to Kerala easing certain COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, the state government on Monday decided not to allow plying of buses in cities, opening of restaurants and pillion riding on two-wheelers. Day 1 of the relaxations, announced on Sunday, saw scores of people hitting the roads in their four-wheelers and two- wheelers in various parts of the state, including coronavirus hotspots, and confusions galore over the effect of the easing of the norms.

The Centre shot off a letter to Kerala government coming down heavily for its decision to allow opening of restaurants, bus travel in cities and opening of MSME industries in urban areas, saying it amounts to dilution of lockdown guidelines and also a Supreme Court observation.

After initially saying there was some “misunderstanding”, due to which the Centre had objected to the easing of the lockdown protocol for controlling coronavirus, the state government decided to rollback some of the relaxations and Chief Secretary Tom Jose asserted the Centre and the states “are in this fight (against coronavirus) together”. The decision was taken at a meeting Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan held with Jose on Monday morning, official sources said. “A formal order on the restrictions would be issued today itself. Buses would not be allowed to ply, restaurants will remain closed (for dine-in) and only parcel service (take away) would be allowed and barber shops will also remain shut”, the sources told .

The Union Home Secretary in a letter to the state chief secretary objected to the additional relaxations, saying it amounted to “dilution”of lockdown guidelines issued on April 15 under the Disaster Management Act 2005. It said Kerala had on April 17 circulated revised guidelines for lockdown measures which allowed opening of activities that are prohibited in the Centre’s consolidated guidelines issued on April 15 after the national lockdown was extended till May 3.

The state government had earlier decided to give relaxations in some of the COVID-19 restrictions in Green and Orange B zones. These included allowing private vehicles movement in an odd-even basis and dine-in services at hotels from Monday. State Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran, admitted there was some “misunderstanding” due to which the centre had objected to relaxations.

“We have given relaxations in accordance with the Centre’s guidelines. I think there is some misunderstanding following which the centre has sought clarfication”, he told reporters. Meanwhile, Kerala Chief Secretary said he had spoken to the Union Home Secretary on Sunday night and the state would write to the Centre on the clarifications sought. “I had a long chat with him last night.

He said Kerala was ahead of other states (in COVID-19 treatment).If Kerala needs special relaxations, the secretary said the state can approach the Centre,” Jose said in an interaction with Editors of various media organisations in the state through video conference. “We are in this fight together — the Centre and the states,” he said.

The day witnessed long queues of vehicles, including in hotspots, as the lockdown restrictions were eased in some places. At Thiruvananthapuram-Kollam border at Kilimanoor, a long line of four-wheelers was seen this morning in violation of the restrictions despite inter-district travel not being allowed.

The state government had brought in certain relaxations in seven districts. But there was confusion over the implementation date. The Left front government had colour-coded 14 districts of the state into four zones– Red, Green, Orange-A and Orange-B, for containing the COVID-19 pandemic. While Idukki and Kottayam come under the Green zone, where no positive cases had been reported in the past 14 days, there was confusion on when the relaxations would come into effect.

Ministers in charge of the two districts said the relaxations would be effective from Monday while the District Collectors said it would be from Tuesday. But vehicles in large numbers were seen on the roads in both districts. Thiruvanthapuram district, Alappuzha, Palakkad, Wayanad and Thrissur, come under the Orange B zone where partial relaxations are allowed from Monday.

A late night government order said there are 88 hotspots, including Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi corporation areas, in the state and there would be no relaxations there. Police used drones at Thiruvanantthapuram and Kochi to check the lockdown violations. Health minister, K K Shailaja, said just because there had been some relaxation people have come out in large numbers. People should strictly follow social distancing and other norms to keep the virus at bay. “If were are careful, we will not have to regret” , she said. A police official said Thiruvananthapuram was a hotspot and they would take action against those coming out for no reason.

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