Chennai: Tamil Nadu’s insistence on a negative RT-PCR test or vaccine certificate for anyone entering from the high-infection state Kerala from 5 August isn’t easy to implement and officials here are doubling down to ensure that the daily travel of workers and economic activity aren’t harmed.
Kerala Sunday reported over 20,000 cases for the sixth consecutive day, creating a cause of concern for Tamil Nadu which shares 13 entry points with the state. Movement between the two states has always been the norm as people shuttle up and down for work and tourism.
Even though there was only a “marginal” rise in cases in border areas, the health secretary of Tamil Nadu, Dr J. Radhakrishnan, said restrictions were being implemented with people coming from Kerala, similar to Karnataka. Prior to this, Tamil Nadu was only conducting thermal scanning of travellers from Kerala.
But there is some fine print in the restrictions set to begin from 5 August. It is not going to be anything like the #SealKeralaBordersNow Twitter campaign last week.
“This (the restrictions) is not applicable to people right at the border of course, who have to travel in between the states for day-to-day work”, Radhakrishnan said. It may just apply to those who are travelling by train, flights, and tourists entering by road.
He added that at border districts such as Coimbatore, Theni and Erode, where the seroprevalence was less — based on the results of the recent sero survey (which signified a larger population was susceptible to the virus) — there were plans of ramping up vaccination.
Officials also said the restrictions were a precautionary measure to ensure people remain vigilant and ensure Covid-appropriate behaviour, which had declined following the second wave.
“Some sort of control is definitely needed. This is just a public health measure”, said Radhakrishnan.
The biggest challenge in Tamil Nadu, the health secretary explained, after the relaxation of lockdown rules was revenge travel and revenge tourism. Revenge travel refers to the phenomenon when people have ‘lockdown fatigue’ and want to break free from their mundane routine caused due to Covid. This makes them want to escape to popular tourist destinations.
‘Protocols should be norm-based’
Meanwhile, Rajeev Sadanandan, former advisor to CM on Covid and former additional chief secretary of Kerala, told ThePrint that the number of cases in Tamil Nadu would also soon start increasing substantially.
“The protocols for people entering Tamil Nadu from Kerala should not be a knee-jerk reaction and should be norm-based,” he said.
Citing the example of border districts Nagercoil and Thiruvananthapuram, he explained that the seroprevalence was high in Nagercoil and substantially lower in Thiruvananthapuram, thus the population in the Kerala district was more susceptible to Covid compared to its Tamil Nadu counterpart.
“I don’t think there will be any official discussion between the governments regarding implementation of these protocols”, Sadanandan explained.
Sources in the Kerala government said that decisions such as a negative RT-PCR report or both doses of Covid vaccine were not data-driven and an attempt by the Tamil Nadu government to show that it was taking some measures in response to Kerala’s high caseload.
“It appears to be more of an effort to modify the behaviour of people of Tamil Nadu by asking them to take precautions while entering Kerala or interacting with people from the state”, Sadanandan said.
Officials also said that the curbs may be difficult to implement because of porous border points.
Among the 13 border points between the two states is the Walayar border, between Palakkad in Kerala and Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu.
Palakkad district magistrate Mrunmai Joshi explained that the shared border had many important entry points and was among the longest borders between the states.
“There is a lot of traffic and porous movement due to farm labourers and industries located near the border, therefore there is a large floating population”, Joshi said. “There are many cut-points that local people know of to bypass these check points. Those are difficult for authorities to monitor.”
Joshi added the modalities for exemption of daily workers had to be worked out and further fine-tuned.