Kerala ready to face any eventuality: Pinarayi Vijayan

Published : March 27, 2020 00:23 IST

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. A file picture. Photo: S. Gopakumar

The Union Government has evinced keen interest in understanding “on a day to day basis” the steps taken by Kerala to combat the spread of COVID-19, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said on Thursday. He said Union Minister Sadananda Gowda had contacted him as entrusted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and had registered his appreciating for the State’s initiatives in combating the disease. Steps have been taken to convey the details of action taken by the State daily to the Centre.

While welcoming the social security package announced by the Union Finance Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan said Kerala had been demanding many such measures, including an increase in wages under the employment guarantee schemes. He expressed the hope that Kerala would be able to utilise the Central package in a manner that will be useful in its COVID-19 prevention activities.

The Chief Minister said a lot of people from Kerala, including students and workers, stranded in other countries and States because of the travel restrictions had expressed concern to the government about their relatives and in their inability to return to the State. “Our response is that they need not have any concern for people back home as the government will take care of their needs. But as requested by the Prime Minister for now, they need to stay put where they are,” he said.

Pinarayi Vijayan also reiterated the State’s commitment for the welfare of the sizeable number of migrant workers in Kerala, in the context of reports that some were being asked to leave rented homes and about the heavy rush of such “guest workers” in trains. “Our duty is to provide suitable accommodation, food and medical assistance to them and urgent measures are being taken at the State level,” he said.

Nineteen more people had tested positive for COVID-19 on March 26, in the State taking the total number of people in that category to 138. Those still under treatment for the disease were 126 and a total of 1,02,003 persons remained under observation, 601 of them in hospitals.

A slew of additional measures were announced by the LDF government since the lockdown was announced, to ensure that “no person went hungry”, and to prevent hoarding, control prices and ease the movement of essential commodities, and effectively check the spread of the disease.

This included supply of 15 kg of food grains to all 81.14 lakh ration card holders in the State in April (in addition to the regular 35 kg food grain quota and 5 kg additional free ration to underprivileged sections), a kit of household provisions to those in home quarantine, and the launching of a chain of community kitchens in local bodies to deliver food to those in quarantine and others who need it.

The Chief Minister said the State was ready to face any eventuality and would utilise facilities outside the government sector too fully for its COVID-19 prevention measures. There are 879 private hospitals with a total of 69,434 beds and 5,607 ICU facilities. In addition, 716 hostels with a total of 15,333 rooms are now undergoing minor repairs to be used as care centres, in case the number of those who require hospitalisation increases much further.

Kerala has food stocks that would be enough for three months, but is coordinating with other State governments and the Central government to ease the movement of essential commodities. Given its vulnerability as a consumer State, Kerala is considering sending special convoys of vehicles to bring in essential food supplies and is establishing a special facility led by top officials to ensure the free movement of goods into the State.

The Chief Minister also said the State would engage an army of volunteers, recruiting 2,36,000 young people to support the work of local bodies and the health department in controlling the spread of COVID-19. The government has opened a facility where youngsters in the group of 22 to 40 can register online for voluntary work in the local bodies, mainly in activities that include “delivery of food articles, to help sections in society who have been left out of official support channels, as bystanders in hospitals, and in the distribution of locally produced goods”, he said.

The services of nearly 1,600 doctors who retired from government hospitals after 2012 have also been requisitioned by the government.

The State also decided to close all 306 liquor outlets of the State-run Beverages Corporation, which had continued to function, attracting huge crowds amid a lot of criticism, even after the State introduced a lockdown till March 31.

The Chief Minister said on Wednesday that the Cabinet had decided to recommend to the Governor to promulgate an ordinance that will give more teeth to government measures now being taken to combat the COVID-19 epidemic.

The proposed Kerala Epidemic Diseases Ordinance, 2020 will give the government more powers to close down the State’s borders, regulate transport services and the functioning of government offices, educational institutions and private establishments, and impose restrictions on the working of factories, shops, workshops and godowns. It will also allow the government to introduce more effective restrictions to deal with the crowding of people at public places and places of worship. Those who violate the provisions of the new law could face imprisonment up to two years and/or a fine of Rs.10,000, the Chief Minister said, in the context of people taking to the roads in large numbers with impunity despite the restrictions of the lockdown in the first two days.