The Kerala government has allowed migrant workers, who are Covid-19 positive but asymptomatic, to continue working in the state, The News Minute reported on Wednesday. The order, issued by Additional Chief Secretary of Labour Department Satyajeet Rajan, stated that such asymptomatic migrant labourers can work in “areas exclusively marked” for them.
“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,” read the order. The order was issued on the direction of Additional Chief Secretary (Industries) Alkesh Kumar Sharma over delay in completion of infrastructure projects in the state.
Asymptomatic workers should be accommodated separately as per the guidelines followed by the Covid-19 First Line Treatment Centres, according to the order. It added that if the asymptomatic migrant workers develop symptoms, like fever, cough, sore throat, diarrhea, loss of smell or breathlessness, then they shall be referred to a Covid-19 hospital or Direct Intervention System for Health Awareness, or DISHA.
The order also stated that migrant workers coming to Kerala will be under quarantine for 14 days, at a place decided by the contractor of the project for which they have been hired. Workers who arrive in the state without getting tested must undergo an antigen test on the fifth day from their arrival. The cost of such a test will be borne by the contractor, the order stated. Covid-positive asymptomatic migrants, who are not employed by a contractor, may also continue to work. However, the order did not mention if the state government will bear the cost of quarantining and testing such workers.
In July, the World Health Organization had recognised the importance of asymptomatic people spreading Covid-19. The UN health body has long downplayed this phenomenon. The WHO has repeatedly said such transmission was rare. “Infected people can transmit the virus both when they have symptoms and when they don’t have symptoms,” the agency had said in July.
However, the extent of truly asymptomatic infection still remains unknown, it had added. There have been multiple instances, even in Kerala itself, where deceased people have tested positive for coronavirus posthumously.
The state government’s order has been put to question. “I am not aware if the health department was consulted on this or about the health complications involved,” KP Kannan, a social activist and development economist, told The News Minute. “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.”
Experts also pointed out the impracticality of allotting separate areas for such workers. “I am not sure how this will be practical to demarcate special zones for such patients in work areas,” Executive Director of the Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development Benoy Peter told The News Minute. “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.”