Kerala's capital enforces 'triple lockdown'

Kerala's capital, which won praise for its early successful handling of the coronavirus pandemic, has enforced a strict lockdown after a surge in cases.

Thiruvananthapuram implemented a "triple lockdown" this week - preventing the movement of people all over the city, imposing clusters where primary and secondary contacts of the infected persons stay in quarantine, and ensuring more focused intervention in the households of infected people.

Kerala's strict early measures to curb the coronavirus' spread meant it had just about 100 cases in May, a scenario that propelled its health minister - a retired teacher with a previously low profile - to rock-star status. But since then nearly half a million people, mostly migrant workers, have returned to Kerala from abroad or from other Indian states.

On Wednesday, the state recorded the highest single-day spike of 301 infections, taking the total to 6,301.

Kerala's Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who had voiced concern about an outbreak if people were not tested before returning home, has attributed the rise in numbers to the returnees, saying they account for more than 80 per cent of the coronavirus cases.

"The city seems to be sitting on an active volcano," said Mr Kadakampally Surendran, the minister in charge of Thiruvananthapuram, urging people to "strictly follow" the lockdown measures.

Thiruvananthapuram's Deputy Mayor Rakhi Ravi Kumar said the rise in cases risked becoming unmanageable as people continued to return to the already densely populated city.

Residents are allowed to go out to buy essential items like groceries and medicine between only 7am and 11am. Each neighbourhood can have only one shop open. "People are allowed only to the nearest shop in the area. If they go further, the police will stop and send them back. We are implementing it strictly to prevent the virus from spreading further," Ms Kumar said.

Neighbourhoods have been sealed with a single entry and exit point. People have been advised to stay at home and those who go out must carry signed forms declaring their intention for police inspection. All offices, businesses and public transport services have been shut down.

Resident K.X. Thomas said there were police everywhere and he was stopped three times when he went to buy fish in the morning.

"Police allowed me to pass only after ensuring that I had a mask and I was going to buy essentials. This is the strictest enforcement of lockdown I have seen," he said.

The state has made wearing masks and social distancing mandatory for a year and banned spitting in public.

Violating these rules can result in a fine of up to Rs10,000 rupees ($180) or two years in prison.

Deputy Commissioner of Police Divya Gopinath said nearly 220 people were arrested on the first two days of the new lockdown and 208 vehicles seized. "We have been very strict in implementing the lockdown," she said. "We deployed police personnel on all roads and streets and have given them instructions to arrest the violators and shift them to institutional quarantine centres."

Social media users in other states where cases have risen sharply, such as Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Assam, urged authorities to implement similar lockdowns.

Thomson Reuters Foundation