Kerala quashes order allowing asymptomatic migrants to join work

South India

The U-turn followed criticism from several quarters, mostly the health community , which termed the order issued by the general administration department (GAD) a ‘suicidal’ one.

The Kerala government has withdrawn a controversial order asymptomatic migrant labourers with Covid infection to work in the state 24 hours after issuing it.

The government took the U-turn following widespread criticism from a cross section of people, especially the medical community, which termed the order issued by the general administration department (GAD) a ‘suicidal’ one.

The order was issued after Industries Secretary Alkesh Kumar Sharma complained that the existing quarantine norms for migrant workers were causing delays in completing infrastructure projects. Many viewed it as a political step prompted by the coming local body and assembly elections.

Health officials pointed out that it could jeopardise the ongoing Covid prevention and control programmes in the state. While Wednesday’s order allowed asymptomatic Covid positive labourers to work, the new order avoided the mention of ‘asymptomatic’ cases and retained all other parts of the order.

The state government had earlier mandated two weeks of strict quarantine for those returning to the state, with contractors and employers handed the responsibility of quarantining and testing them. The workers had to register themselves on the Covid-19 jagratha portal of the government and appear for rapid antigen tests, seven days into their quarantine. The workers could join for duty only after getting a nod from the local health authorities.

Kerala has an estimated 2.5 to 3 million-strong migrant workforce across a wide spectrum of sectors including construction, agriculture and fishing, according to an Indian Express report. Over the last three decades, they have managed to plug the holes in the state’s labour force, becoming indispensable to the local economy.

In the backdrop of the pandemic, a large section of the footloose worker segment, especially working in construction and hospitality sectors, left the state aboard buses and Shramik trains as jobs dried up. But those attached to plantations and private firms stayed back as their employers provided them with food kits and other supplies until work resumed.

Migration experts say that the migrant labour community was highly vulnerable as they have been living in highly unhygienic conditions. Earlier this month, health workers detected over 100 cases among migrants working for a private firm at Payipra in Ernakulam district in one of the strongest hints of the virus seeping into worker strongholds.

Apart from Ernakulam, one of the biggest migrant hubs in the state, infections among workers were reported in Feroke (Kozhikode), Irinjalakuda (Thrissur) and Athirampuzha (Kottayam). On record, health officials claimed the spread of infection is not large among workers compared to the local population, but the spread of the virus amongst the community with greater intensity in recent weeks does not bode well for the labourers.

Benoy Peter, executive director at the Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development (CMID), said there were two ways in which workers are at risk of getting infected.

“Now that cases are spreading into the community, anyone walking into a factory can be potentially carrying the infection. If those chances were negligible earlier, they are substantial now. The moment one of the workers gets the infection, it spreads like wildfire because there is limited scope for social distancing among them. That’s one way. The second is when these employers bring in workers from other states who may not follow the quarantine measures strictly. They then transmit it to the others,” the Indian Express quoted Peter as saying.

The CMID has been working in tandem with the health department to broadcast multi-lingual messages on Covid-19 symptoms, treatment and protocol to bridge the gap in communication for migrant labourers.

Image Credit: News Minutes

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