The Additional Chief Secretary (Industries) had sought to relax quarantine norms for specialised and essential workers as it was delaying the infrastructure projects in the state.

A group of migrant workers waiting along a roadside without following physical distancingImage for representation
Coronavirus Coronavirus Wednesday, September 16, 2020 - 16:31

The Kerala government has issued an order stating that migrant workers in the state can engage in work, even if they have COVID-19 and are asymptomatic. The order states that such asymptomatic migrant labourers can work in “areas exclusively marked” for them.

As per the order, if migrant workers are found positive for the coronavirus, they should be segregated from others. “If they are asymptomatic positive, then they may work in the areas exclusively marked for the work to be done by the asymptomatic positive workers by taking all precautions,” states the order issued by Satyajeet Rajan, Additional Chief Secretary of Labour Department.

The order was issued based on the direction of the Additional Chief Secretary (Industries) Alkesh Kumar Sharma IAS due to delay in infrastructure projects in the state.

As per the guidelines, asymptomatic workers should be accommodated separately as per the guidelines followed by the COVID-19 First Line Treatment Centres. It also adds that, if the asymptomatic migrant workers develop symptoms, like fever, cough, sore throat, diarrhea, loss of smell or breathlessness, after testing positive, then they shall be referred to a COVID-19 hospital or DISHA.

Such an order has been issued despite multiple instances being reported of asymptomatic COVID-19 patients falling seriously unwell and in some cases dying. In many such cases, even in Kerala, deceased people have been later reported to have COVID-19, in the test done posthumously.

A few studies, which studied the clinical patterns of asymptomatic patients, have shown that many persons sustained damage to the lung, including minor lung inflammation, despite not presenting with any symptoms.

Migrant workers engaged in infrastructure projects often have laborious tasks with increased exposure to dust and other particulate matter, which could probably prove harmful to the lungs of a person with COVID-19.

However, according to KP Kannan, a social activist and development economist, it is either COVID-19 or poverty for these migrant workers.

“I am not aware if the health department was consulted on this or about the health complications involved. But, it is either a situation of ‘die of COVID-19’, which is a small probability, or ‘die of poverty’ for these guest workers. We have reached a situation where people will start to feel the pinch, disregard all precautions and just go for work because they want to live,” said Kannan, who has done research on labour and employment.

People working closely with the migrant workers also points out the impracticality of allotting separate areas for such workers in the field.

“I am not sure how this will be practical to demarcate special zones for such patients in work areas. But there is clearly a desperation on the part of migrant workers to come back to Kerala for work. The months-long lockdown has affected them severely. It is not sure how far this new regulation will be considered as a deterrent by the workers,” said Benoy Peter, Executive Director of the Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development.

The order further states that migrant workers coming to the state shall be in quarantine for 14 days, at a place decided by the contractor of the project. In case, if the migrant labourers have reached the state without doing a COVID-19 test, they “may undergo testing on the fifth day using antigen test at cost to the contractor”.

The technical teams, technical officers or consultants, who come to Kerala as part of the projects will also have to undergo the quarantine guidelines.

If the workers are found negative, they can continue work by still following the physical distancing protocol and and be confined to the work site and place of stay.

Notably, the guidelines remain the same for those migrant workers who are not employed under a contractor. That is, such migrant workers will also have to undergo quarantine and also have to undergo COVID-19 test. There is no clarity on whether the government will provide testing for these workers.

Watch how migrant workers struggled to go back home when lockdown was imposed:

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