Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has written to railway minister Piyush Goyal requesting the Indian Railways not to bypass the state’s COVID-19 containment and control plan.
The state, one of the few places in the world to nearly eliminate Coronavirus through social distancing, has an elaborate system to monitor, control and contain the influx of potential carriers of COVID-19 into the state.
Key to the strategy is the ‘COVID-19 Jagratha’ — a website for any outside visitor who wants to enter the state.
Under this scheme, which has operational for more than a week, anyone who wants to enter the state first registers on the portal.
This triggers a visit by health workers to the person’s home to check if the premises can be turned into a temporary quarantine facility for the person. In particular, the officials check for the availability of bath-attached bedrooms, as well as the presence of other, healthy family members who are willing to provide food and other assistance to the planned visitors.
If the health workers are satisfied with the available amenities, the visitor is approved for home quarantine.
Local officials from health, police and social welfare departments of the government also brief the other members of the family about the norms to be followed while caring for the visitors. They also inform the neighbors about the upcoming arrivals.
In case the officials do not find the visitor’s home suitable for quarantine, or detect the presence of a high risk person within the household, the government books a place for the visitor at one of its institutional quarantines.
After completing these steps — which usually take about three days — the would-be visitor is given a date and place to enter the state.
Around 50,000 people from other states have already entered Kerala under this scheme over the last one week.
In all, a total of 1.3 lakh people from other states in India had signed up to enter the state. Entry passes have already been issued to close to 1 lakh of them.
The state was also planning to operate special trains from places like Bihar, Delhi, Mumbai, Gujarat, Karnataka and Chennai to bring in those don’t have their own vehicles.
This is in addition to the more than 4 lakh Keralites who have signed up on the portal to come back from foreign countries by air. Out of these, around 80,000 are expected to touch down over the next four weeks.
However, even as the state laid out the elaborate scheme to receive, check and send to quarantine tens of thousands of people per day, Indian Railways announced earlier this week that it is restarting train services to the state, upsetting the plan.
So far, Indian Railways has announced one train to Kerala with a frequency of thrice a week, with the first train scheduled to enter the state around midnight tonight.
Vijayan pointed out that there is no coordination or exchange of information between the railways and the Kerala government about the passengers on these trains.
Because of this, government officials are not able to visit the premises of the passengers to check for the availability of home quarantine facilities and to brief family members.
“This is a step that jeopardizes efforts by the state government to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Vijayan said, referring to Indian Railways’ move to restart services. “If the Railways starts bringing in people bypassing this system, it could lead to transmission of the disease.”
“We need to know who are the people who come here. Otherwise, it will be an obstruction to our efforts to control the disease,” the chief minister said.
He said he has written to Piyush Goyal requesting that the Indian Railways should ensure that only those who have registered themselves on the Jagratha portal are able to book/board the trains.
“This will help in obtaining the full details of the passengers and their transit path.”
Concern has also been expressed by other states, such as Karnataka and Goa, over Indian Railways’ move to bring in people without coordinating with the local government.
Kerala, which had seen the total COVID-19 patients in the state fall to 16 a week ago, has been seeing a steady increase in Coronavirus cases since it started receiving visitors from outside the state a week ago.
At present, the state has 41 active COVID-19 patients, including 13 patients who came on Vande Bharat flights, around 14 who came from other states and an equal number of locals who caught the virus from infected visitors.