Desperate times call for desperate measures. Kerala, still grappling with the Covid-19 second wave, has adopted a new strategy to deal with a seemingly unmanageable situation. While relaxing lockdown restrictions considerably and allowing almost all sectors to open, it has enforced measures aimed at allowing only those with a certain level of immunity against the virus to move around. The new rules, effective from Thursday, dictate that people need to be vaccinated with at least one dose or carry an RT-PCR negative report not older than 72 hours or have proof of Covid infection in the past to be allowed into shops, offices, other establishments and tourist spaces. The idea—almost like the vaccine passport plan being considered by some foreign cities and countries—is driven by the twin objective of jump-starting the ailing economy and restoring Covid-crippled livelihoods ahead of Onam, and bringing the pandemic under control on all relevant parameters, especially given the failure of earlier strategies now. The financial distress has claimed about 23 lives in the last seven weeks alone and the rise in infections has resulted in Keralites being singled out for interstate travel curbs. It was time Kerala did something about the situation.
However, the new strategy has raised new questions. With the vaccine coverage being inadequate, enforcement of such a rule comes with serious practical difficulties. The requirement of an RT-PCR report is also an unrealistic proposition for those getting out for daily needs and livelihood reasons. Much like the flawed TPR-based lockdown strategy that the government adamantly stuck to, there’s a danger of the new one turning out to be an illogical imposition on a struggling population—doing more harm than good. It could end up being a tool in the hands of the police to harass people, also like the earlier one.
There’s only one proven strategy to deal with Covid—test, trace, isolate and treat. The government must also look at ways to speed up vaccination. What it should do is pay more attention to what its expert panel is saying, instead of relying on a bureaucracy/police-driven agenda. What it shouldn’t at all do is burden the people, hinder livelihood options and constrain businesses further while trying out unproven strategies.