Lakshadweep to insulate itself from virus spread

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THIRUVANANTHAPURAM:  As Kerala takes precautions against coronavirus spread on a war footing, a cluster of islands about 220km away has been fighting hard to insulate itself from the outer world. The Lakshadweep islands — India’s smallest Union Territory and in close proximity to Kerala — now has eight people in quarantine, including four Keralites. So far, no positive cases have been reported from there.

An archipelago, Lakshadweep has a population of more than 90,000. Being a closed entity, an outbreak here could actually prove deadly. Last week, Lakshadweep banned the entry of foreign tourists. And as of Wednesday, entry of permit holders from the mainland has also been stopped. Screening is being carried out at all four entry points to the islands — the ports at Kochi, Kozhikode and Mangaluru, and Agatti airstrip.

Even as authorities claim to implement proper screening procedures on the ground, critics point out that the UT is in reality ill-prepared to handle an epidemic outbreak. Protesting against the district panchayat’s slow pedalling, the NCP boycotted a meeting held on Wednesday to discuss preparedness.

“The island administration stopped tourist entry to the islands only after major protests. Even now, very little information is being passed on to residents about the precautions that ought to be taken. Being vacation time, a large number of students travel from the mainland to the islands. Other than thermal screening at the entry points, no other measures are being taken to monitor them,” pointed out T Cheriya Koya, former president of the Lakshadweep Students’ Association.

As on date, the islands have eight people in quarantine — four labourers from Kollam and four islanders who returned from Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Uttar Pradesh. They are being kept in-home quarantine at Androth and Agatti islands.“We have been following all protocols laid down by the Union ministry. Screening at the three ports and Agatti is also being carried out. We have identified 80 beds for quarantine and another 15 for isolation at various PHCs on different islands. In case of an emergency, they will be airlifted to Kochi,” said Dr Mohammed Aslam, Director of Medical Services, Lakshadweep.

While entry of foreign tourists was stopped last week, permit holders have been asked not to enter the islands. However, there is no ban for islanders. Screening is being carried out at ship embarkation and disembarkation points. Currently, five people who came to board vessels are in quarantine in Kochi, said A P Sharafudeen, in-charge of Lakshadweep Administrative office, Kochi. Despite the Covid-19 scare, islanders continue to travel between the mainland and Lakshadweep.

Even though authorities claim that adequate measures have been taken, actual precautions in place seem very little. How prepared the island administration is to handle mass evacuations or setting up of large isolation facilities, only time will tell.

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