Last week, four members of a family from Kasaragod district who were travelling on a train from Mumbai, got down at Uppala railway station when the train slowed down for the signal. They then took an auto rickshaw to get home when they were supposed to get down at Kozhikode, which is almost 100 kilometres away.
People who are from North Kerala and come by special trains from other states, are supposed to get down at Kozhikode railway station where they will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms and sent to quarantine in a government arranged vehicle.
"In order to skip the quarantine and other procedures we had arranged to contain the spread of coronavirus, they got down near Uppala. They got into an auto, and the driver was unaware that they had come by train. But, the family did not know that we have arranged small local surveillance groups who will inform the police and health department if any such incidents happen. We got them as soon as they reached home and put them in quarantine," Sub Inspector Vishnu Prasad of Manjeswaram told TNM.
The police officer also said that in Manjeswaram, which is on the Kerala-Karnataka border, there have been incidents where people from outside the state have entered but did not remain in quarantine.
"We have registered cases against them. There are also cases where people break the quarantine and walk out freely. Now we have the police app as well as the surveillance teams active everywhere to track down those who break the quarantine. Moreover, local people are also very cooperative," he said.
There are many reports of people breaking quarantine across the state, which could be a big threat to the government's control over COVID-19.
Another border district Palakkad has also got many people breaking quarantine. Tribal Affairs Minister AK Balan, who was in charge of the district's coronavirus containment activities, has warned that the district may move to community spread if people continue to break quarantine rules.
"People who come from abroad are under our control since they undergo two tests and we are able to manage their quarantine. But, people from other states who have no symptoms, go directly to home quarantine. So, they will have to strictly follow the government rules. Otherwise, the first community spread in Kerala will be in Palakkad," the minister said in a press meet on Tuesday.
"People should be more careful in this phase than the previous phases. Now the rules are relaxed and people are coming from outside. Some are bringing people from outside, claiming that they're being charitable. But the details of how many and who these people are isn't being informed to the authorities. The people who come from outside and who are supposed to be in quarantine, walk out freely. There are also incidents where people don't stay in room quarantine and come in contact with other family members who are inside the house. Then these family members go out and come in contact with others," he added.
He pointed out that a few people had come by train without informing the authorities and that Section 144 was imposed in the district after 19 cases were reported on a single day.
A few days ago, the Ernakulam district police had said that many people were breaking the quarantine rules. Kochi City Police Commissioner Vijay Sakhare had said that more than 300 people had broken their quarantine on a single day last week.
18 people who had broken their quarantine several times were shifted to a government facility by the police in Kochi last week.
"Every day, we do patrolling twice at the houses where people are in quarantine. Station house officers also go to the houses. We have a quarantine safety mobile application, where the emergency button is available and people can contact us during emergency. Also, the police delivers essentials and they don't have to go out, " the Commissioner said.
The police has installed a mobile application in the phones of every person in quarantine which can be tracked if they move out of their location.
"Apart from that, we track the CCTV visuals from the neighborhood. We also get visuals using drone cameras. We have informed the neighbours to keep an eye on those in quarantine as well," the Commissioner added.
Dr Vijaykrishnan, Secretary of the Kerala Government Medical Officers' Association, said that one of the reasons for Kerala's success in dealing with COVID-19 in the initial phases was that the patients were not high in number and the lockdown rules were strictly enforced. So, the authorities were able to keep track of the contacts and maintain the quarantine status properly.
"Until now, we were able to give attention to individual patients and treat them well. But when quarantine is broken and if community spread happens, we will not be able to do that. Now individual responsibility is very much relevant. The government, both state and the Centre, have done whatever is possible. We cannot put the full burden on the government. It is also individual responsibility," he told TNM. He added that law enforcement should be strengthened when quarantine rules are broken.
Dr Vijaykrishnan said that when somebody breaks quarantine, their family will first be affected and next the society. So, both the family and society have the responsibility of ensuring that a person remains in quarantine.
"We are prepared for the positive cases that come from outside the state. We have facilities to treat them. But if the number increases due to community spread, it will be difficult," he said.