The world may be in the grip of COVID-19 pandemic, disrupting daily schedules and robbing many of their weekend getaways, but life seems to be normal in the small Lakshadweep islands, which is yet to record the first positive case of coronavirus.
No masks, no sanitisers, and many rules of COVID-19 are not in place and every human activity, including marriages and public gatherings continue, thanks to strict Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that bars easy entry of people to the island in the Arabian sea.
According to P P Mohammed Faizal, who represents the islands in the Lok Sabha, Lakshadweep has staved off the COVID-19 pandemic since its outbreak earlier this year, reporting zero cases as of December 8.
“So far not a single case of coronavirus has been reported from Lakshadweep because of the exemplary precautionary measures we have taken”, Faizal told PTI.
Gaining entry to the 36 sq km island comes with its set of strict measures.
Whether it is a common man, officials or people’s representatives– they will have to fulfill the measures including a mandatory seven-day quarantine at Kochi, the only point from where transportation via ships and helicopters to the Union Territory is allowed.
Faizal said no COVID-19 restrictions have been imposed on the people in the islands.
“No masks, no sanitisers because it is a green area.
Lakshadweep is the only place where the schools are open and classes are being conducted. From September 21 onwards, the Prime Minister (Narendra Modi )has allowed to open the schools.”
“It is like normal. All the functions, including religious ones and others like marriages are being held as usual. Everything is normal here”, the two-time MP said.
The smallest UT in the country, Lakshadweep is an archipelago consisting of 36 islands with an area of 32 sq km.
All the islands are 220 to 440 km away from the coastal city of Kochi in Kerala. According to Census 2011, it has a population of 64,000.
Faizal said the moment Kerala reported the first case of COVID-19, also the country’s first, in January, the local administration mounted a strict vigil.
The first concern was to stop the arrival of tourists– both international and domestic.
“In the month of March 2019, we stopped it”, the MP said.
The administration then stopped the entry permit to each of the islands from the mainland and allowed access only to capital Kavaratti from Kochi with the approval of the administrator, officials said.
By curtailing the issuance of entry permit, the administration could control the inflow of non-islanders to Lakshadweep, they added.
For the entry of islanders who work in other parts of the county and abroad, officials deployed in Lakshadweep and those who travel to mainland for treatment purpose, a standard operating procedure was formulated.
Accordingly, those who want to come to Lakshadweep will have to undergo seven days institutional quarantine in Kochi, with the administration bearing the cost involved in it.
To ensure proper testing of samples of islanders quarantined in Kochi, the administration has provided a testing machine to the Kalamassery Government Medical College.
“Those who tested negative will be allowed to come to Lakshadweep. Once they reach their particular island, again they have to be home quarantined for a week. That has been strictly monitored by medical and police departments,” Faizal said.
The Parliamentarian said he has travelled thrice to Delhi during the pandemic period and followed all the sets of laid down rules before returning to the islands, including getting quarantined for seven days in Kochi.
“After testing negative, I come back to Lakshadweep where I undergo one (more) week of quarantine at my house,” said Faizal, who attended the monsoon session of Parliament and two official meetings in Delhi during the period.
He said many cases of coronavirus were reported when they were quarantined in Kochi.
“Those infected people will be shifted to the administration’s special facility in Kochi where they will have to stay for 10 days,” he said.
After 10 days they will be tested again.
“If they test negative they will have to spend 14 more days in the administration’s facility and taken to the island only after conducting one more test”, he said.
A Kerala Health department official said those outsiders who test positive for the virus in the state will be included in its list of cases but the states they belong will be mentioned along with it.
Fazial further lauded the steps taken by late administrator of Lakshadweep, Dineshwar Sharma, for being instrumental in making Lakshadweep green.
“He was so particular to make our island green in all the ways possible. He has gone the extra mile for this and he was such a nice person”, Faizal said.
Sharma died at a Chennai hospital on December 4 following severe lung disease.