Life & Style

COVID-19: For some in Kerala capital, work is worship despite lockdown

Jayashankar J and his team of policemen on lockdown duty

Jayashankar J and his team of policemen on lockdown duty   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Employees in different sectors in Thiruvananthapuram talk about their work during the lockdown and sense of pride in contributing to the fight against Coronavirus outbreak

 

The lockdown in Kerala has forced a significant section of the population to work from home. At the same time, there are many working on several fronts to ensure that essential services are not disrupted and that the needy in society are taken care of. Health practitioners, police and fire force personnel, delivery boys, those working in community kitchens, milk cooperatives and many more have stepped up their work to meet challenges of different kinds. MetroPlus speaks to some of these earnest men and women who are connecting the dots of a society in the time of social distancing and quarantines and that too while maintaining all safety measures to battle the Coronavirus.

Health care

Thirty-three-year-old Sheeja Florence believes that perhaps her second name is not a coincidence. The nurse at the Government General Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram has just entered a mandatory 14-day home quarantine after “Corona duty” in isolation ward since January 29. “When the isolation ward was opened, the virus scare was just raising its head and we mostly received an influx of in-bound travellers ferried from the airport as part of screening measures,” says Sheeja, a resident of Amaravila on the outskirts of the city.

Sheeja Florence

Sheeja Florence   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

 

In a matter of days, she realised the hospital staff had their work cut out. “While admitting new patients and collecting their details, of utmost importance is enquiring about their travel history and recent contacts,” says Sheeja.

 

“Vulnerable” due to the nature of the job, she has to adopt adequate precautions and strictly follow the medical protocol. “In the initial phase of ‘Corona duty’, I was able to come home after work but as public health safety measures tightened, we were instructed to stay in a different building by the isolation ward itself. Also, we thoroughly wash ourselves up using medical-grade cleansers after work hours. Personally, I'm not worried as I follow the necessary safety precautions to the letter,” says Sheeja, a mother of two, aged six and two. Her husband, Sabeesh Mon, is a welder.

Sheeja says one of the bright spots that keeps her morale going is the “heart-felt gratitude” expressed by those leaving the ward after discharge. “Bystanders are not allowed in the ward and we are the only ones those in isolation see and interact with. Though hospital counsellors visit them periodically, we lend them moral support throughout,” she adds.

On the beat

Even as the sun beats down harshly at noon, police constable Vyshak S stays upbeat. With the lockdown in force, he is required to don the khaki for longer as his “duty hours” have been extended. But notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather and the need to be on his toes all the while, Vyshak says he is only “happy” to be of service. "Each day, I'm deployed at a different point in the city as part of lockdown duty,” says the Manacaud resident.

Vyshak S

Vyshak S   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

 

 

Wearing masks and gloves are mandatory and the personnel is provided with sanitisers and hand-wash as well. Vyshak says his duty now entails more than just surveillance. “Recently, I was posted at a college hostel in Vazhuthacaud that had been re-purposed as an isolation ward and had to assist the medical staff with legwork,” he says. Vyshak points out that one of the trickiest parts in his line of duty is “gently” convincing those venturing out on the roads about the need to stay home.

Police constable Jayashankar J says he is mostly on the go when on duty as he is part of the Commissioner of Police's ‘Striker team’ “Despite the lockdown, there's actually no dearth of civic and criminal offences, not to mention petty crimes,” he says. The Kilimanoor resident billets at Special Armed Police camp at Peroorkada at night in stand-by mode and gets to go home only on his “rest days.” Jayashankar says it's not always easy to make people understand the importance of the lockdown. “It takes a certain amount of tact and power of persuasion since as policemen, we have to be wary of not being perceived as high-handed,” Jayashankar says.

Jayashankar J

Jayashankar J   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

 

 

But he points out an instance when he stopped a car with four passengers who claimed they had stepped out to purchase essential items. “Apart from maintaining law and order, we are also in effect doing a sensitisation drive,” he says, admitting that sometimes he gets tired of repeating the same instructions about staying at home countless times in a day.

At your service

Shaji B’s day starts at 7 am when he heads to a go-down near his house in Kudappanakunnu to pick up his delivery van. Shaji then travels to the Vegetable and Fruit Promotion Council Keralam (VFPCK) office at Bakery Junction to collect the vegetable and fruit kits for the day. Around 750 kits are loaded into his mini-van.

“After the lockdown, since there has been a rise in demand for fresh vegetables and fruits, VFPCK encourages neighbours and residents of neighbourhood colonies to pool in their orders so that we delivery persons do not our waste time and energy stopping to deliver at individual homes,” says Shaji, who has been working as a delivery person for the past one year.

Shaji B

Shaji B   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

 

 

There are four kinds of kits offered by VFPCK: mangoes, pineapple, ‘thani naadan’ with different kinds of bananas, and vegetables. Shaji is given the route map for the day and delivers the kits within a 10 km radius of the city limits.

The pre-ordered packets are handed over to security personnel of apartments or to office-bearers of the residents’ associations. “They deliver the packets to those who have ordered in the apartment block or neighbourhood. Before the lockdown, we would deliver to the customer’s doorstep.”

Shaji dons a mask, which he changes every six to seven hours during his delivery rounds, and ensures he sanitises his hands after each delivery. “The company provides us the masks and sanitisers.”

Lunch is usually had en route. “My wife packs me my lunch. I also carry a large bottle of water.” Although his wife, Sheeja, and son Milan aren’t happy with Shaji heading out for work during this period, Shaji says he hasn’t much of a choice. “This is my only source of income. I usually reach home by 8 pm these days. I always wash up outside before stepping into the house after work. It pays to be safe.”

What’s on the menu?

“The job is tiring. But what keeps me going is the many people who need this food,” says 58-year-old Chandrakumari S, one of the three cooks employed at the community kitchen functioning at Government Model LP School, Thycaud, Thiruvananthapuram.

COVID-19: For some in Kerala capital, work is worship despite lockdown
 

 

It was the first kitchen opened by Thiruvananthapuram Corporation after Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan announced the scheme on March 25. “Initially, we prepared only breakfast and lunch and food was served for around 300 people at a time. Now we distribute breakfast, lunch and dinner for over 1,000,” says Chandrakumari. The beneficiaries include people in home quarantine, labourers from other states and the elderly, especially those staying alone. Since she stays near the school, Chandrakumari walks to her workplace by around 6 am. Breakfast has to be ready by 8.30 am, lunch by 12.30 pm and dinner by 6.30 pm. “Demand is going up every day and there have been days when we had to cook more at the last minute,” she says. Suresh Kumar, another cook at the kitchen, has been into catering for two decades.

While chappathi from Central Prison, Poojappura, is being served on most days for breakfast with a vegetarian curry, it has been decided to include idli as well in the menu. Lunch comprises rice and curries. Dinner comprises chappathi-curry, upmavu etc.

The food is disbursed by a team comprising officials of the Corporation and daily wage workers employed in various health circles under the local body. “We provide food to 17 homeless women put up at a school in Thycaud. We have arranged for hand sanitisers, hand wash and a television for them,” says Rajesh R, a junior health inspector with Chenthitta Health Circle of Thiruvananthapuram Corporation.

Chandrakumari S Scooking at the community kitchen at Government Model LP School, Thycaud

Chandrakumari S Scooking at the community kitchen at Government Model LP School, Thycaud   | Photo Credit: VS Prasanth

 

 

Food packets are given by the same team to 71 labourers from other states who have been provided accommodation at Putharikandam Maidan. “In spite of several challenges, we ensure that not a single person goes hungry,” Rajesh adds.

People who need food register on the previous day and the exact count is given to the kitchen before 4 pm. The kitchen has a dozen volunteers to clean and cut the vegetables, 20 people to pack the food and 10 of them, including drivers, to transport it to the vehicles. Among them are Corporation officials and teachers.

The milk way

“Employees of the Ambalathara plant of Kerala Milk Marketing Federation (Milma) come from neighbouring districts and the outskirts of the city. Since there are no buses and trains, we come in our vehicles. We are anxious and worried but since the State government has declared that procurement and distribution of milk is an essential service, all of us have pitched in to meet the challenge,” says Suresh Kumar S, plant attender at Ambalathara, Thiruvananthauram.

COVID-19: For some in Kerala capital, work is worship despite lockdown

There are two kinds of work: at the plant and administration. Senior Manager G Hariharan says that whatever work Milma was doing prior to the lockdown is being done even now. “In fact, sale of curd has increased from 10,000 litres to 20,000 litres in Thiruvanathapuram city. Sale of milk has registered a 10 to 15 per cent dip here. At present, we sell about 1,75,000 litres of milk in the district. In view of the safety measures put in place by the government, we have moved the packing of milk pouches to the shift from 9 pm to 6 am. Our last distribution van leaves Ambalathara by 3 pm so as to reach distribution outlets before the deadline of 5 pm when all shops are expected to be closed,” explains Hariharan.

At presents, workers at the plant do three shifts instead of two to reduce the number of workers at the plant. Suresh says that their effort is to maintain distribution of milk smoothly without breaking any of the safety measures.

Procurement of milk from small and medium farmers is another important task taken up by Milma. “At present, 1.2 lakh litres milk is collected from Thiruvananthapuram and to help dairy farmers in Malabar, we are procuring 70,000 litres from there. In addition, we are supplying milk to six community kitchens in the city and 500 to 600 packets of sambharam (spiced buttermilk) to policemen on duty,” adds Hariharan.

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Printable version | Jul 5, 2020 9:15:26 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/covid-19-for-some-in-kerala-capital-work-is-worship-despite-lockdown/article31256305.ece

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