Thanneermukkom panchayat in Alappuzha is now distributing umbrellas on a mass scale to enforce social distancing in the village, which was once a hotspot.

This Kerala panchayat is using a new tool for social distancing An umbrella
Coronavirus Human Interest Monday, April 27, 2020 - 19:00

Alappuzha district is popularly hailed as the ‘umbrella capital of Kerala’. The region is home to big umbrella makers such as Popy, and claims about 80% of the share in the state’s umbrella market.

Now, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a tiny village panchayat in Alappuzha district is finding yet another use for the umbrella. ‘Open it, come rain, shine or pandemic,’ is the motto of the Thanneermukkom Grama Panchayat, which is now distributing umbrellas on a mass scale to enforce social distancing in the village, which had one COVID-19 patient. 

“Two open-umbrellas that are not touching each other will ensure a minimum distance of 1 metre. This is why the umbrella is an effective tool for social distancing. Right now, we have in stock three-fold ones, the normal ones and extra-large umbrellas. We are trying to sell the extra-large umbrellas as it will create more distance between users,” says Panchayat President PS Jyothis.

Women of Thanneermukkom panchayat using umbrellas for social distancing

According to Jyothis, the whole credit for this new-found use of umbrellas goes to Kerala’s Finance Minister TM Thomas Isaac, who had visited the panchayat on April 22 and casually mooted the idea during a meeting on how to ‘break the chain’.

“We knew that our stock of sanitisers would be over in a week’s time. That is when Thomas Isaac suggested using umbrellas as a means to implement social distancing. We have now mandated the use of umbrellas in all the 23 wards of the panchayat, apart from masks,” Jyothis adds. 

Subsidised umbrellas  

Thanneermukkom has 15,000 households and a population of 50,000. Among them, there are several residents who are not financially well off. 

In order to ensure umbrellas for everyone, the Thanneermukkom Panchayat wrote to the state government to provide a subsidy on the umbrellas and to allow payments in instalments to members of Kudumabshree’s self-help groups. 

“The umbrellas have been produced by Kudumbashree’s ‘Mari’ marketing venture (which makes umbrellas) and this allows for members to make payments in instalments. So if it is an umbrella worth Rs 150, members can pay Rs 10 every month for 15 months. Further, the state government has also given a 20% subsidy on the umbrellas that are sold at Rs 20, 50, 700 etc,” Jyothis adds. 

Thanneermukkom has about 6,000 Kudumbasree members with 500 units, who meet every week.

When the lockdown is lifted, more shops will open and more residents will venture out. Further, several expatriates, mainly from the Gulf countries, will return to the Panchayat. 

“We were a hotspot as we had about 316 people under observation after one Kuwait returnee out of 58 foreign-returned persons tested positive for the virus. Now all of them have completed their quarantine period. The Kuwait returnee has tested negative and is observing his 14-day home quarantine post recovery. But we have 1,146 people in the Gulf, ready to return home post the lockdown,” Jyothis says. 

Keeping the immediate future in mind, the Panchayat’s umbrella rule, which was enforced from March 23, will ensure that everybody practices social distancing involuntarily. 

“Depending on the success of this model, the umbrella rule is set to be enforced across Kerala. An umbrella a day could keep COVID-19 away,”, the president added. 

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