A busy street in Kunnamkulam empty because of COVID-19 enforced Sunday lockdown.
The number of Covid-19 cases in Kerala has gone up to 7,438, with 488 people testing positive on Saturday, the highest spike in a day so far. On Friday, 416 people had tested positive. Even as Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan warned that the situation was "becoming alarming", the opposition parties under the leadership of Congress are busy organizing mass protests in various parts of the State in defiance of Covid-19 protocols.
On Friday morning, hundreds of men and women had come out of their homes in Poonthura claiming that they were facing isolation from various quarters due to media reports on the rising number of positive cases from the area.
The protesters, many of whom refused to wear masks, were allegedly mobilized by the opposition parties there. Poonthura has witnessed a major spread of the virus with a fisherman said to have infected many others in the fishing village. In his press conference, the Chief minister said a Youth Congress worker had campaigned through WhatsApp to bring people out on the streets by spreading fake news.
At least 31,985 people live in the containment zone at Poonthura. Health measures of the state government were reportedly "sabotaged" by some people spreading fake news. So far, 262 cases have been reported from this area.
"Unfortunately, UDF leaders are in the forefront of this. A youth congress leader campaigned through WhatsApp, against the antigen tests saying the test was useless and would spread the virus. He also claimed that the test was just to create fear among the people and due to enmity towards Poonthura natives," Vijayan said.
Stern action will be taken against those who spread such fake messages and cause a rift among the people and force them to take to the streets, he said.
Commandos and 500 police personnel have been deputed in Poonthura to strictly enforce the lockdown there.
Meanwhile, Health Minister K.K. Shailaja appealed to the people to cooperate with the state administration to prevent the spread of the infection.
"People's cooperation is needed. The whole world knows about this pandemic. The virus is spreading very fast and death cases are increasing across the world. Why are people not seeing this and understanding the gravity of the situation? Kerala has fewer cases compared to other states, due to the effective preventive mechanism adopted in the last six months. If someone is trying to sabotage all the measures taken by the health department, we will lose control of the situation," she said.
The minister also criticised the protests being launched during the pandemic and wanted to know why all the leaders, who are aware of the crisis, were silent.
"Protests can be held, but following the COVID- 19 health protocols," she said.
Pointing out that there are over 5,500 aged persons in just three wards of Poonthura area and at least 2,250 children below 5 years, she said there was only one way to contain the spread and that was by declaring a lockdown and restricting travel.
On Friday, a team of health workers, including a doctor, who had gone to collect swab samples from residents at Poonthura was allegedly threatened by some locals. The team members were forced to lower the windows of their car by some agitated residents. Some of the residents even spat at the health workers, sources from the Indian Medical Association (IMA) said.
All the four health workers have been asked to go into quarantine, IMA sources told PTI.
The Chief Minister and Health minister K K Shailaja condemned the attack on the health workers. Blaming the opposition parties, Vijayan said "Our health workers are in the battlefield knowing that they can get affected anytime and are fighting the spread of the pandemic. They were prevented from entering the place. Some people are making the locals do the same. We can see the hands of the Opposition parties behind this," he told reporters. Describing the incident as "most unfortunate", Shailaja said the health workers were striving to help people, regardless of the threat to their own lives.
The IMA has expressed its "strong protest" against this misbehaviour towards the health workers.
"At a time when health workers are risking their lives to help others to tide over the COVID-19 situation, it is unfortunate such an incident has occurred," the association said.
In addition to this, the Congress has been holding protests in various places on the issue of the gold smuggling case that came to light recently. These protests were held in violation of the instructions and directions of the health department and health experts. The protesters did not wear masks in many places and no physical distancing was maintained. Though only five people are permitted to gather for protests, more than 100 people had gathered in Kozhikode at a protest by the Youth League, the youth wing of the Indian Union Muslim League.
Many leading health experts have come out against the opposition's efforts to convert the pandemic into a political opportunity.
In the early days of the Covid-19 spread, some opposition MPs had to go into quarantine after a strike in Valayar. Now, during this critical time even Congress parliamentarians like K. Muraleedharan and K Sudhakaran have said they would go beyond the protocol and would stage protests.
Many health officials have come up with their concerns over the irresponsible acts of the opposition parties. The co-founder of Infoclinic, an initiative of a group of doctors who work together to improve public health in the state, Dr. Jinesh PS, urged Ramesh Chennithala and Mullappally Ramachandran to not kill the poor people who are on protest sites believing the leadership.
“Lockdowns and other restrictions are being imposed to control the spread of the disease. It must be followed. Either way, it is a danger that people will gather. That’s why the number of people for marriage functions and funerals is being restricted,” said R.L. Saritha, Director of Health Sciences.
The Executive Director, Social Security Mission, Dr. Muhammed Asheel pointed out the situation in many major cities across the country which have been severely affected. “Even in Bengaluru, which performed relatively well, the situation got worse. We still have a grip due to strong defense. Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, Kozhikode, Thrissur and Malappuram face the risk of more transmission. There are more elderly people and people with lifestyle diseases in the state than anywhere else in the country. If they are infected with Covid-19, the death toll will be high,” Dr Asheel said, explaining the need for more caution.
(With Inputs from PTI