A sea of people trickles in and out of the entrance gates of a school in Kerala. The crowd of hundreds throngs near the school gate, with some groups walking into the campus while others standing in clusters outside the entrance in Thiruvananthapuram city.
This shocking sight was witnessed outside the St Mary’s Higher Secondary School in Pattom in the capital city, where students wrote their Kerala Engineering Architecture and Medical (KEAM) Entrance Exam on Thursday.
Across Kerala, the government held KEAM entrance tests for 1.03 lakh students in multiple centres, despite the rapid rise in coronavirus cases and clusters in the state.
Photos and videos of the crowds from the Pattom centre surfaced on social media and have now sparked a row, as the authorities failed to contain the crowd and impose physical distancing norms.
It is to be noted that the incident took place in Thiruvananthapuram city, which has been under a triple lockdown due to the alarming rise in COVID-19 infections through contact spread.
The state capital has reported the most number of COVID-19 infections through contact spreading among all 14 districts. As on Friday, 1,181 out of the 1,505 active cases were spread through contacts in Thiruvananthapuram. The district has also reported super spreader clusters in the coastal areas of Poonthura and in the Ramachandra Hypermarket in the city, where 80 employees tested positive.
The state government’s lapse in crowd control stands out in the backdrop of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Health Minister KK Shailaja raising alarm over Thiruvananthapuram’s rising cases earlier this week.
Doctors from the Indian Medical Association (IMA) expressed dismay at the callous attitude of the public and the state’s failure to regulate crowds.
“Thiruvananthapuram is in a highly vulnerable position. Taking this into account, what happened at the Pattom centre is shocking. Even if it’s a group of hundred, just 3-5 infected people can result in a huge cluster. People who were thronging close to them could have been infected. The blame is to be placed both on the authorities at the exam centre who were supposed to control the crowds and also the public – especially parents – who should have taken care not to throng the entrance and risk infection,” Dr Vijayakrishnan GS, Joint Secretary of IMA Kerala, told TNM.
States such as Andhra Pradesh and Telangana postponed the Common Entrance Tests (CETs) owing to rising COVID-19 cases, the Kerala government however decided to go ahead with the KEAM entrance tests as per the fixed schedule.
Though many students had asked the government to postpone the exams, CPI(M) student union supports the government's decision.
“The situation in Kerala is such that every day the infection is spreading more. If the government had not conducted the entrance exams now, then they would be postponed sine die. This would affect the future of lakhs of students in Kerala and outside Kerala who are taking the KEAM entrance,” Sachin Dev, State Secretary of the Students’ Federation of India (SFI), the student wing of the ruling CPI(M) in Kerala, told TNM. The exams were conducted in 343 centres in Kerala, and in Delhi NCR, Mumbai and Dubai.
Regarding the Pattom incident, SFI office-bearers maintain that it is a one-off incident. “The exam centre will have all the details of the students who took the test and the government should use this to monitor the crowd to further curtail a spike in infections,” Sachin added.