Govt. finds itself at a crossroads

The State government appears to be at a crossroads on how best to balance COVID-19 curbs on social life and commerce against the crying need to reopen the moribund economy and restore shattered livelihoods ahead of Onam.

The State is also under pressure from the Centre to shut down localities with an average test positivity rate (TPR) of above 10%. (As many as 355 local government jurisdictions are over the mandated threshold.)

Travellers from Kerala also feel fenced off from neighbouring Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Both administrations have announced that they will allow only persons with RT-PCR negative certificates from Kerala and Maharashtra to enter their respective jurisdictions via road, rail or air from August 1.

Meanwhile, there is media speculation that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has expressed scepticism about the efficacy of the test positivity rate-driven COVID-19 regulations.

The government also faces harsh criticism from the trading community that the curbs have not brought down the TPR. Instead, the ‘crippling and unscientific’ regulations have destroyed businesses.

The Kerala Vyapara Vyavasaya Ekopana Samathi (KVVES) has threatened to rebel against the restrictions and open shops on all days from August 9. It has claimed that opening only on alternate weekdays for limited hours would cause crowding. Parallelly, the KVVES has moved the High Court to lift the curbs on the retail and service sectors. It has requested the court to allow businesses to open 24/7.

The KVVES has told the High Court that 11 traders had committed suicide during the second lockdown. At least 20,000 shops have boarded up for good since May 6. Thousands of traders have approached the government for the cancellation of their GST registration.

The retail and hospitality sectors have not recovered since the catastrophic floods in 2018. Idle stock remained piled up inside stores. Retailers are hard-pressed to repay loans and meet the rent. Many traders face the threat of eviction and forfeiture of property. Most of them cannot afford the wages of employees.

An official says the government may update the pandemic mitigation roadmap in the run-up to Onam. The priority is to keep the death rate low and prevent the infection from overwhelming the State's finite health resources. The government could not risk discounting the possibility of a third wave driven by new and more virulent variants. The second COVID-19 wave is yet to abate.

A trade-off between protecting lives and preserving livelihood is unavoidable at the current stage of the pestilence. Mr. Vijayan is due to chair a meeting of the pandemic expert committee on August 3.

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Printable version | Sep 27, 2021 12:44:32 AM |

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