Kerala opens up slowly as relaxations kick in

A worker arranges a mannequin in front of a shop at Broadway in Kochi on Thursday following the easing of the lockdown restrictions.   | Photo Credit: THULASI KAKKAT

Kerala on Thursday appeared to take tentative steps towards a slow recovery from the economic devastation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Wednesday, the government had eased most restrictions on commuting, non-essential retail and service sectors it had imposed at the start of the second COVID-19 wave on May 8. The administration hopes the current set of relaxations would help stem the State’s financial decline and restore lost livelihoods to some measure.

Vaccine certification

Nevertheless, the government insisted that only vaccinated persons be allowed into shops. The second wave was yet to abate, and the spectre of a third loomed. The proviso drew sharp criticism from the Opposition United Democratic Front. Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president K. Sudhakaran said the stipulation was impractical. The government had not made vaccination certificates mandatory for buyers at liquor stores and bars. The government seemed partial to the liquor lobby, he said.

Increased activity

The relaxations triggered a swarm of activity with shops, markets, street vendors, hair salons, beauty parlours, dress shops, fancy stores and jewellery shops admitting customers from 7 a.m. Indoor dining remained banned. Nevertheless, the government has allowed restaurants and street food vendors to set tables in the open, serve customers seated inside parked vehicles or serve food as a takeaway or home delivery. Cinema theatres will remain closed. So will shopping malls, swimming pools, stadiums, walking circuits, and sporting complexes.

Sunday lockdown

The administration has limited weekend lockdown to Sundays, except for Independence Day and Onam on August 15 and 22, respectively. The government has allowed resorts to admit customers. However, they should not allow group recreational activities. The ban on cultural and social events remained. The government has allowed production companies to shoot films and television serials indoors with a minimum number of fully vaccinated actors and crew. The curb on outdoor filming remained.

Retailers warned of fines

The police have stepped up enforcement of mask and physical distancing mandate. Sectoral magistrates said that retailers would risk steep fines if they did not assign a minimum of 25 square feet of space to a customer or permit crowding. They already closed a grocery supermarket in Thiruvananthapuram for allowing a large number of customers through the back entrance in violation of the pandemic prevention protocol.

Law enforcement fanned bus stops, terminals, fish markets, harbours, fish landing centres, loading and unloading bays, and manufacturing units to prevent crowding.

Reality in realty

However, the bustle on the street appeared to hide not-so-obvious economic woes. A real estate agent said changing business patterns, including work from home and online transactions, had caused large swathes of pricey commercial spaces in the State to lie vacant without takers.

Property owners are struggling to meet their mortgage payments. Tenants are seeking reduced rents, and many have defaulted on their payments.

Proliferating street vendors have caused shop sales to fall drastically. Many small-scale industries have shut shop. Businesspersons have sought a moratorium on loan repayment and a fiscal stimulus package from the government to put their enterprises back on track. Banks have, in turn, complained of an increasing number of bad loans.

Demand for COVID-19 Commission

Leader of the Opposition V.D. Satheesan has urged the government to set up a COVID-19 Disaster Commission on the lines of the State Planning Commission. He said the commission should conduct a detailed sector-wise study of the pandemic-triggered economic devastation and formulate a plan to rescue the State’s finances and restore livelihoods.

Finance Minister K.N. Balagopal had announced a ₹20,000 crore stimulus packaged to revitalise the State’s economy.

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Printable version | Sep 19, 2021 5:05:30 PM |

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