For near two days, the bustling coastal hamlet of Poonthura in Thiruvananthapuram district has worn a deserted look as a detachment of commandos from Kerala’s Special Armed Police (SAP) patrol the streets in the most dramatic scenes of Covid-19 protocol enforcement in the ongoing week-long ‘triple lockdown’ imposed on the district.
The fishing village, situated 12 km south of the state capital, is being labelled a localised ‘epicentre’ with some 119 samples out of 600 swabs collected from the area testing positive over the past week. Health officials have cautioned that Poonthura could be an emerging cluster outbreak in the state, with 120 primary contacts attributed to one patient, if stringent containment measures are not implemented.
The local media has reported that three wards in Poonthura have been designated critical containment areas and cordoned off while five wards acting as buffer zones. Besides the 25 commando boots on the ground, there are loudspeaker-mounted vehicles blaring ‘stay at home’ orders to residents and prohibiting outsiders from breaching the cordoned-off area. As well, coastal police are preventing both entry by sea and fishing activities in the area, which is frequented by boats from Tamil Nadu as well.
Teams of health workers are disinfecting homes in the densely-populated village. “Poonathura is one of the tightly-clustered localities in the city and is home to mainly low income families. Most of the residents are in rented homes that cover about one cent (about 40 sq.m.) and need to work for their food. For them, home quarantine was never going to be an option even given the seriousness of coronavirus. The commandos are needed to enforce the lockdown,” said Sherly J, a former ward councillor.
Rationalising the use of commandos, state tourism minister Kadakampally Surendran, who has been tasked with overseeing the district’s pandemic control activities, called the area a ‘super spreader’ hub. “There has not been such a rapid spread of the disease in any other nearby region," he said. Ahead of the ‘triple lockdown’ coming into force on Monday, Surendran had the state was “sitting on an active volcano” with community transmission appearing to look nearly certain.