The Kerala government on Tuesday declared a shutdown of all educational institutions, called for the postponement of religious events and weddings and urged cinemas to lock down, as eight new coronavirus cases were reported in the state.
Fourteen persons in Kerala are now under treatment for the infection. Earlier, three others from the state — medical students who had returned from China’s Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak — had tested positive for the coronavirus but have since been cured and discharged.
Four persons have been arrested in Kerala in connection with fake social media campaigns on coronavirus, police said on Tuesday. Two persons were arrested in Thrissur district and the others in Alappuzha and Wayanad districts, the police said.
Responding to the chief minister’s call to shut down cinemas, the state’s theatres decided to do so from Wednesday. Producers said they would push back the release dates of films. The stakeholders will meet on March 16 to evaluate the situation.
Briefing reporters after a cabinet meeting that took several decisions to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that “even slight negligence will have serious ramifications”.
He said the government would initiate action against anyone who conceals information that could endanger the health and lives of others.
It emerged on Sunday that a couple and their grown-up son who are now infected with the coronavirus had not informed the Kochi airport coronavirus helpdesk after returning from Italy on February 29.
“People with even minor signs of illness must stay away from others, as even a minor lapse could lead to more complications,” Vijayan said on Tuesday.
Six of the new cases had been in contact with the three-member family. The aged parents of the man who came from Italy, two of his relatives who had gone to receive him at Kochi airport, and two others whom he had visited at Ranni, Pathanathitta, have now tested positive for the coronavirus. Pathanathitta is south Kerala is close to state capital Thiruvananthapuram.
A health department source told this newspaper that the family from Italy has thus far passed on the infection to eight people.
A three-year-old boy who travelled from Italy to Kochi via Dubai on March 7 is the youngest case in the state. He tested positive on Monday. On Tuesday his parents also tested positive and have been admitted to the isolation ward of the Government Medical College Hospital at Kalamassery in Ernakulam.
Health minister K.K. Shailaja said on Tuesday evening that a total of 1,495 people were under observation in the state.
“The cabinet decided to shut down Classes I to VII in schools that follow all syllabuses. Only students of Classes VIII and IX will have to appear for their annual exams, while Class X students are allowed to write their board exams,” Vijayan said. The Class X board exams began on Tuesday.
The schools and colleges, including professional institutions barring medical institutions, will remain closed till March 31.
“All classes, including at madarsas, anganwadi centres and private tutorial institutions, should also remain closed for this month. Barring exams, there won’t be any educational classes until March 31,” Vijayan said.
The government will, however, home-deliver the mid-day meals provided at the anganwadi centres across the state.
Educational institutions have also been asked to postpone their annual events and farewell parties.
Vijayan announced that the government was in talks with service providers to increase the Internet bandwidth so that people, many of whom will have to be at home as precautionary measures, don’t have problems in browsing.
Since many temples across Kerala hold their annual festivals in March, the government has urged them not to organise any public gatherings.
“Such festivals should be limited only to the religious rituals and no public gathering should be allowed,” Vijayan said, adding that all district collectors would be asked to implement the orders.
Among the main temples heading into festivals is the Sabarimala shrine in Pathanathitta, which is set to open for monthly rituals on March 13. While it would close on March 18, the hill shrine will open again for its annual festival on March 28 and will remain open till April 7. The temple will also remain open from April 10-18 for the Vishu festival.
The Travancore Devaswom Board that governs temples in the state, including Sabarimala, appealed to the people not to visit the shrine during the upcoming monthly rituals.
“We request worshippers not to come to the temple this monthly puja, and postpone it to another occasion once the situation improves,” TDB president N. Vasu told reporters.
The government plans to open testing facilities at the international airports at Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, Kozhikode and Kannur to facilitate quicker and easier evaluation of blood samples of passengers.
While the medical colleges in Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode have been permitted to conduct tests for the coronavirus, more facilities would come up in other districts, said Vijayan.
All the four airports are also screening domestic passengers.