As Kerala crossed the 1000 mark on 22nd July, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had said that extreme measures like “complete lockdown” would have to be considered.
A special meeting of the cabinet scheduled for July 27 will decide whether to impose a total State-wide lockdown in Kerala given the worrying spike in COVID-19 infections.
The cabinet, which met here on Thursday, also decided to defer the convening of the Legislative Assembly to pass the Finance Bill scheduled for Monday.
By some accounts, the cabinet has temporarily kept in abeyance the plan to impose harsh restrictions on life and mobility akin to the nationwide lockdown in March.
An all-party meeting called by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan will further debate the issue on Friday. The Government might impose drastic measures only if a consensus for a total lockdown emerged among political parties and disease experts.
Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala has accepted the Government’s invitation. He has batted for a coherent socio-economic strategy to survive the pandemic with minimal disruption to normal life and business.
The United Democratic Front (UDF) is likely to flag the economic distress and loss of livelihood caused by recurring but inevitable lockdowns in Kerala.
The Opposition will argue for more financial support and livelihood aid for vulnerable sections of society, especially fishers and daily wage earners who seemed to have borne the brunt of the shutdown most.
Mr Vijayan had indicated on Thursday that the seemingly implacable advance of the contagion might compel the Government to restrict life totally as it had done before during the first phase of the national shut down.
The cabinet also reviewed efforts to reduce the pressure on hospitals by moving persons with mild symptoms to first-line treatment centres. It reportedly felt there was no cause for panic and the COVID-19 caseload in Kerala was still at a manageable level.
The meeting reportedly stressed the need to stagger and space out the deployment of health workers, doctors, paramedics, ambulance drivers, caregivers, nurses, local body officials, volunteers and law enforcers who spend long hours on the frontline of the battle against the plague. The State’s pandemic control strategy could ill afford to have large numbers of them contracting the infection simultaneously.
The Government had commandeered ambulances, readied ventilators and hospital beds to receive patients. It had also expanded testing.
The cabinet also weighed plans to quickly set up community kitchens at the Municipality and panchayat ward levels in the event the contagion necessitated a total State-wide lockdown.
The meeting also reportedly factored in the socio-economic distress caused by “triple lockdowns” in highly cohesive and densely populated coastal areas, many of which have fallen under the “critical containment zone” categorisation.
The ban on fishing had severely affected fishers, forcing the Government to rush free rations and other essentials to the population.
The lockdown in Thiruvananthapuram Corporation and other urban localities had caused markets to remain shut, hobbling retail trade and causing widespread loss of livelihood.
An official said the cabinet also assessed whether another State-wide shutdown would prove detrimental to Kerala’s tottering economy.
The council of ministers reportedly felt the targeted containment strategy had helped prevent the epidemic from radiating out of critical containment centres until now.
The present plan focussed on locking down localities within a limited radius of the fresh outbreak for a minimum of seven days while allowing life and trade to assume some semblance of normality outside the perimeter of the epidemic hotspots and infection clusters.
Mr Vijayan is expected to brief the media on the outcome of the cabinet meeting at 6 p.m.