THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Kerala government's containment policy mandating that public carry vaccination certificates or negative RT-PCR test results to visit shops has been termed anti-people and discriminatory by a cross-section of people, including health experts.
The new guidelines, which came into effect from Thursday, said only those possessing a vaccination certificate, a negative RT-PCR report less than 72-hour old, or a test showing that they contracted Covid in the past would be allowed to visit shops and offices.
Health Minister Veena George who said the conditions were only 'desirable' in the assembly on Wednesday corrected her stand by endorsing the guidelines issued by Chief Secretary V P Joy. The Opposition on Thursday staged a walkout protesting against the decision.
Even members of the government's expert panel on Covid management found the order 'shocking. “The decision to make changes to existing containment strategies was approved by the chief minister. However, the wordings changed when it came out as the chief secretary's order. The decision to make such 'immunity certificates' mandatory is absurd,” said a member of the expert committee on the condition of anonymity.
In a review meeting on Covid management held on Tuesday, it was decided to consider a weekly caseload per 1,000 people to determine lockdown curbs instead of depending on the test positive rate in local bodies. It was also decided to allow shops to open till 9 pm each day for six days a week. The directive for non-vaccinated people to stay home as much as possible was decided to be issued as an advisory in the meeting and the assembly statement made by Veena on Wednesday was in accordance with the spirit of that decision.
"So far, no country has implemented such a rule. In a house, if there is an 80-year-old vaccinated person and an 18-year-old who has not received the vaccine, the former will have to step out to buy groceries.
The risk benefit of vaccines is lesser among older people when compared to younger age groups. There are ethical issues as well because there are many people who are unable to get vaccinated. It also results in increasing digital divide because many people are unaware of their digital vaccination certificate," said internal medicine specialist and health activist Dr N M Arun.
On Thursday, owing to the confusion regarding immunity certificates, many non-vaccinated people refrained from stepping out of their houses. Police didn't seek vaccination certificates from public anywhere in the state on Thursday. The merchants too complained that the new rules would lead to
harassment from police and sectoral magistrates.
“The guidelines will lead to police entering shops to harass customers and shop owners for certificates. We are ready to restrict the crowd in the shops, but cannot demand certificates from customers. It is a tricky situation that has been forced on us. The bureaucrats somehow want shops to remain closed. It is
unfortunate that they managed to get the government's support too,” said Kerala Vyapari Vyavasayi Ekopana Samithi state secretary S S Manoj.
Geevarghese Mor Coorilos, Metropolitan of Niranam Diocese of Malankara Jacobite Syriac Orthodox Church, called the rules impractical and wondered whether no one in the 'expert committee' members had taken a 'common sense vaccine'.
Public interest technologist Anivar Aravind said any attempt to use vaccine certificates to control and classify people or to bring checkpoints in their lives was anti-people.
“It is unconstitutional as it violates fundamental rights. Even if there is enough supply of vaccine, the government has no power to impose such coercive measures. It is also against the stand taken by CPM,” Anivar said.
In the assembly, Opposition leader V D Satheesan raised a point of order alleging that the chief secretary's order contrasted the assurance given by Veena in the assembly. "This order is paving way for massive penalization of people. Kerala has already become a fine state. The police are given a fine collection target and the new order can be used for that," he said.