THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Doing away with the “unscientific practice” of restricting the functioning of banks and shops dealing with non-essential goods on Monday, Wednesday and Friday alone and stopping the weekend lockdown were among the suggestions mooted by the state-level expert committee of Covid management at least three weeks ago.
The state government, however, decided to keep the suggestions by expert doctors led by former planning board member Dr B Ekbal on hold as a section of senior officials had warned that Covid situation remained too serious and time was not ripe for any experiment.
The inordinate delay in lifting lockdown restrictions is testing the patience of traders and daily-wage labourers across the state and leading to street protests like the one that was witnessed in Kozhikode on Monday.As lockdown enters 76th day in the state on Tuesday, 175 local body areas are under triple lockdown and 362 local body areas under lockdown while partial lockdown is in force in the rest of the state.
“It is sheer common sense that crowding increases if you restrict timing. The visuals of crowding on Fridays and Mondays carried by media attest that our suggestion was apt. There is no need of weekend lockdown as well,” said a member of the expert panel, on condition of anonymity.
A senior officer who attends the lockdown review meetings said there was stiff resistance on part of the chief minister and top bureaucrats when the relaxations were discussed in the previous meetings. “The argument was that going ahead with restrictions like closing down of shops on alternate days is necessary to give a feeling that the situation is still serious. If all restrictions were lifted, people would misuse. The irony in review meetings is that the expert panel chairman, who is the real health expert in the room, would bat for the right of livelihood while layman officers would plan complex containment strategies,” said the officer.
‘Expert panel suggested relaxations once TPR fell to 15%-13% range’
The state-level expert panel has reviewed the plateau of test positivity rate (TPR) at 10% as a positive development. The daily case count and number of active cases were the other parameters suggested by the panel to decide on relaxations.“In fact, the panel suggested relaxations once TPR fell to the range of 15-13%. But, the officials decided to fix 10% as the benchmark. That is illogical as the first wave saw TPR hovering around at 10%for about five months,” said a source. “According to the panel, it was time for relaxations when daily cases fell below 15,000 mark and active cases fell below 2 lakh,” the source said.
The panel had suggested relaxation in restrictions after the ICU/ventilator occupancy drops below 50%. As on Monday, ICU/ventilator occupancy was around 20% only. In the last review meeting, the expert panel’s suggestion to relax restrictions as TPR fell below 15% mark was disputed by officials suggesting an old circular of the Central Government that said lockdown was needed in districts where TPR is above 10%. “That guideline was issued when the second wave was peaking. That is when all states imposed lockdown. Now, we are on the descending phase and TPR of 10% has different meaning in both these contexts,” said an official.