On January 17, 2020, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare acknowledged the emergence of COVID-19 that was spreading across China. On January 30, 2020, the country’s first COVID-19 positive case was reported in Kerala.  By March 11, 2020, the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic.  This blog summarises the key policy measures taken by government of Kerala to respond to the pandemic.  

As on April 22, Kerala has had 427 confirmed cases of COVID-19, of which 307 have recovered (highest rate of recovery in the country). Only three deaths have been recorded in the state so far.


Pre-lockdown period: Early measures for containment

Following the first confirmed case involving a returnee from Wuhan, China, the initial responses by the state were aimed at surveilling, identifying, and conducting risk-based categorisation of all passenger arrivals from China and others who had come in close contact with these travellers. As two more cases were confirmed on February 2 and 3, the state government declared a health emergency in the state. 

Subsequently, a health advisory was issued to track, identify, and test all travellers with a travel history to Wuhan since January 15, 2020.  Such passengers and their close contacts were to be kept in isolation for 28 days.  The advisory also directed all lodging establishments to maintain a register of travellers with travel histories to corona-affected countries. A similar advisory was issued for student returnees as well. With no further confirmed cases being reported immediately, on February 12, the state withdrew the health emergency.  However, a high state of response and surveillance continued to be applied.

Second wave of infections

When a second wave of infections began spreading in early March, the government took several multi-pronged measures to address the threat. The following measures were taken in this regard:

  • Health measures: Revised guidelines for the clinical management of COVID19 patients, covering testing, quarantine, hospital admission, and discharge, were issued.  
  • Instructions were issued regarding airport safety protocols as well as testing of foreign nationals entering and exiting the state. All foreign arrivals, even if asymptomatic, were to be kept in isolation until their test reports were available. 
  • Further guidelines and precautions on social distancing and various hygiene norms, such as, use of sanitsers, were also issued to malls, shopping centres, and salons
  • Movement restrictions: All non-medical educational institutions, including anganwadis and madrassas were immediately shut down till March 31 and exams of classes 1-7 were postponed. Exams for classes 8 and above were to be held as scheduled. University exams were also postponed till March 31.
  • Government departments were asked to make temporary arrangements regarding working hours of their employees. Officials were also instructed to look into welfare measures for migrant workers.
  • Guidelines were also issued to private establishments regarding working time, safety measures, and leave for employees.
  • Administrative Measures: On March 17, COVID19 was declared a notified disaster, thus becoming eligible for funds from the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF). SDRF is the primary fund available with state governments for responses to notified disasters. Notifying a disaster enables states to spend more from the SDRF to fight the said disaster.
  • In order to better coordinate the state’s response, the government issued instructions to constitute COVID-19 cells in all departments. Meetings and inspections by government officials were also to be avoided. 
  • Local Self Government institutions were assigned various roles and responsibilities. These include: (i) running awareness programs, such as, ‘Break the Chain’ initiative, (ii) conducting sanitation and cleanliness drives, (iii) regular outreach to home isolated/quarantined persons, (iv) activating committee system to manage responsibilities, (v) ensuring availability of essential commodities, (vi) categorising and ensuring available response mechanisms, such as, material resources, volunteers, medical resources etc, and (vii) ensuring special attention to vulnerable populations, such as senior citizens, and persons with co-morbidities or undergoing special treatments. 

The lockdown period

On March 23, Kerala announced a state-wide lockdown till March 31.  A day later, the central government announced a nation-wide 21-day lockdown.  

Restrictions imposed under the state’s order included: (i) stoppage of all forms of passenger transport services, (ii) prohibition of a gathering of more than five persons, and (iii) closure of all commercial establishments, officers, and factories, except those exempted.  Use of taxis, autos or private vehicles was permitted only for procurement of essential commodities or for medical emergencies. Establishments providing essential goods and services such as banks, media, telecom services, petrol bunks, and hospitals were permitted to operate.  

On April 15, the central government extended the lockdown till May 3.  Some of the key measures undertaken during the lockdown period are: 

Administrative Measures

  • A round-the-clock war room, comprising members of different departments, was set up to monitor and supervise all COVID-19 containment activities. 
  • Corona media cell was set up to monitor and tackle the threat of fake news surrounding COVID19.  
  • With the legislature not in session, the Kerala Epidemic Diseases Ordinance, 2020 was promulgated by the Governor of Kerala on March 26. The Ordinance empowers the state government to undertake necessary measures and specify regulations to counter the threat of an epidemic disease.  It also specifies a penalty for those who violate orders made under this Ordinance. 

Healthcare Measures

Essential Goods and Services

  • On March 25, the state declared a list of essential services under the Kerala Essential Services Maintenance Act, 1994. 
  • Various exemptions from lockdown were issued to services that were later deemed essential. These include: (i) shops and bakeries, including departmental stores, (ii) online food deliveries, (iii) parcel services, for delivery of essential goods, (iv) automobile service workshops, (v) shops and service centres for mobile phones, computers etc, only on Sundays, and (vi) plumbers and electricians to undertake maintenance work in houses and flats. 
  • On April 3, orders were issued to set up community kitchens under the aegis of Kudumbasree and Local Self Governments (LSGs). Kudumbasree is the poverty eradication and women empowerment programme implemented by the Kerala government. As on April 20, a total of 339 Community Kitchens have been functioning in 249 panchayats across 14 districts of the state. They have served a total of 5,91,687 meals since April 4, 2020. The government has also instructed LSGs to hire volunteers for the kitchen and pay them an honorarium of Rs. 400 (for one-time service) or Rs. 650 (for the whole-day).

Welfare Measures

  • Under SDRF norms, funds were released to the Health Department for relief and response activities for COVID-19. 
  • Each District Collector has been allocated Rs. 50 lakh for carrying out various COVID-19 outbreak-related control and prevention activities.
  • Financial assistance has been sanctioned to (i) fishermen, (ii) artists, (iii) lottery agents and sellers, and (iii) elephants and other such animals being looked after. 
  • A 2000-crore worth Chief Minister’s Helping Hand Loan Scheme was announced for people facing lockdown-related unemployment and hardships. The scheme will be operationalised through neighbourhood groups under the aegis of Kudumbasree. 

Post-lockdown strategies – Strategies easing lockdown relaxations

  • Expert Committee: On April 4, an Expert Committee was constituted by the government and on April 6, the Committee submitted its Report on the guidelines for post-lockdown regulations. It recommended a conditional, three-phase strategy, with districts being the unit of implementation. Relaxations would be progressively eased in each phase depending on criteria, such as, (i) number of new confirmed cases, (ii) percentage increase/decrease in number of persons under home surveillance, and (iii) no emergence of hotspots.. 
  • Containment Guidelines: After the lockdown was extended till May 3, the state released revised guidelines for containment, that recommended classification of districts into four zones, based on number of cases and disease threat. The zones – Red, Orange A, Orange B, and Green – would have different, graded restrictions, with Red having stringent restrictions in the form of a lockdown till May 3. The Orange A and B zones would have a lockdown till April 24 and 20 respectively, followed by a partial relaxation thereafter. Green zone would have a lockdown till April 20 and relaxation in restrictions thereafter.
  • Based on the above order, the state issued an advisory for industrial units to follow while resuming operations. Some of the Standard Operating Procedures to be followed include: (i) conducting disinfectation of premises, machinery, and vehicles, (ii) arranging exclusive transportation facilities with vehicles operating at 30-40% capacity, (iii) mandatory thermal scanning of people, (iv) following hygiene and social distancing norms, including a cap on elevator capacities and size of meetings (v) mandatory corona-related insurance cover for workers, (vi) mandatory use of CCTVs, and (vii) preparing a list of nearby COVID-19 hospitals .

For more information on the spread of COVID-19 and the central and state government response to the pandemic, please see here.

The National Anti-Doping Bill, 2021 is listed for passage in Rajya Sabha today.  It was passed by Lok Sabha last week.  The Bill creates a regulatory framework for anti-doping rule violations in sports.  It was examined by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Sports, and some of their recommendations have been incorporated in the Bill passed by Lok Sabha.  

Doping is the consumption of certain prohibited substances by athletes to enhance performance.  Across the world, doping is regulated and monitored by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) which is an independent international agency established in 1999.   WADA’s primary role is to develop, harmonise, and coordinate anti-doping regulations across all sports and countries.   It does so by ensuring proper implementation of the World Anti-Doping Code (WADA Code) and its standards.  In this blog post, we discuss the need of the framework proposed by the Bill, and give insights from the discussion on the Bill in Lok Sabha.  

Doping in India

Recently, two Indian athletes failed the doping test and are facing provisional suspension.   In the past also, Indian athletes have been found in violation of anti-doping rules.  In 2019, according to WADA, most of the doping rule violations were committed by athletes from Russia (19%), followed by Italy (18%), and India (17%).  Most of the doping rule violations were committed in bodybuilding (22%), followed by athletics (18%), cycling (14%), and weightlifting (13%).  In order to curb doping in sports, WADA requires all countries to have a framework regulating anti-doping activities managed by their respective National Anti-Doping Organisations.  

Currently, doping in India is regulated by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA), which was established in 2009 as an autonomous body under the Societies Registration Act, 1860.  One issue with the existing framework is that the anti-doping rules are not backed by a legislation and are getting challenged in courts.  Further, NADA is imposing sanctions on athletes without a statutory backing.   Taking into account such instances, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Sports (2021) had recommended that the Department of Sports bring in an anti-doping legislation.   Other countries such as the USA, UK, Germany, and Japan have enacted legislations to regulate anti-doping activities.  

Framework proposed by the National Anti-Doping Bill, 2021

The Bill seeks to constitute NADA as a statutory body headed by a Director General appointed by the central government.  Functions of the Agency include planning, implementing and monitoring anti-doping activities, and investigating anti-doping rule violations.  A National Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel will be set up for determining consequences of anti-doping rule violations.  This panel will consist of legal experts, medical practitioners, and retired athletes.  Further, the Board will constitute an Appeal Panel to hear appeals against decisions of the Disciplinary Panel.  Athletes found in violation of anti-doping rules may be subject to: (i) disqualification of results including forfeiture of medals, points, and prizes, (ii) ineligibility to participate in a competition or event for a prescribed period, (iii) financial sanctions, and (iv) other consequences as may be prescribed.  Consequences for team sports will be specified by regulations.   

Initially, the Bill did not have provisions for protected athletes but after the Standing Committee’s recommendation, provisions for such athletes have been included in the Bill.  Protected persons will be specified by the central government.  As per the WADA Code, a protected person is someone: (i) below the age of 16, or (ii) below the age of 18 and has not participated in any international competition in an open category, or (iii) lacks legal capacity as per their country’s legal framework

Issues and discussion on the Bill in Lok Sabha

During the discussion on the Bill, members highlighted several issues.  We discuss these below-

Independence of NADA 

One of the issues highlighted was the independence of the Director General of NADA.  WADA requires National Doping Organisations to be independent in their functioning as they may experience external pressure from their governments and national sports bodies which could compromise their decisions.  First, under the Bill, the qualifications of the Director General are not specified and are left to be notified through Rules.  Second, the central government may remove the Director General from the office on grounds of misbehaviour or incapacity or “such other ground”.  Leaving these provisions to the discretion of the central government may affect the independence of NADA. 

Privacy of athletes

NADA will have the power to collect certain personal data of athletes such as: (a) sex or gender, (ii) medical history, and (iii) whereabout information of athletes (for out of competition testing and collection of samples).  MPs expressed concerns about maintaining the privacy of athletes.  The Union Sports Minister in his response, assured the House that all international privacy standards will be followed during collection and sharing of data.  Data will be shared with only relevant authorities.

Under the Bill, NADA will collect and use personal data of athletes in accordance with the International Standard for the Protection of Privacy and Personal Information.   It is one of the eight ‘mandatory’ standards of the World Anti-Doping Code.  One of the amendments moved by the Union Sports Minister removed the provision relating to compliance with the International Standard for the Protection of Privacy and Personal Information.

Establishing more testing laboratories across states

Currently India has one National Dope Testing Laboratory (NDTL).  MPs raised the demand to establish testing laboratories across states to increase testing capacity.  The Minister responded by saying that if required in the future, the government will establish more testing laboratories across states.  Further, in order to increase testing capacity, private labs may also be set up.   The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Sports (2022) also emphasised the need to open more dope testing laboratories, preferably one in each state, to cater to the need of the country and become a leader in the South East Asia region in the areas of anti-doping science and education.

In August, 2019 a six-month suspension was imposed on NDTL for not complying with International Standard for Laboratories (ISL) by WADA.  The suspension was extended for another six months in July, 2020 due to non-conformity with ISL.  The second suspension was to remain in effect until the Laboratory complies with ISL.  However, the suspension was extended for another six months in January, 2021 as COVID-19 impacted WADA’s ability to conduct an on-site assessment of the Laboratory.  In December, 2021 WADA reinstated the accreditation of NDTL.

Raising awareness 

Several athletes in India are not aware about the anti-doping rules and the prohibited substances.  Due to lack of awareness, they end up consuming prohibited substances through supplements.  MPs highlighted the need to conduct more awareness campaigns around anti-doping.  The Minister informed the House that in the past one year, NADA has conducted about 100 hybrid workshops relating to awareness on anti-doping.   The Bill will enable NADA to conduct more awareness campaigns and research in anti-doping.  Further, the central government is working with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to test dietary supplements consumed by athletes.  

While examining the Bill, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Sports (2022) recommended several measures to improve and strengthen the antidoping ecosystem in the country.  These measures include: (i) enforcing regulatory action towards labelling and use of ‘dope-free’ certified supplements, and (ii) mandating ‘dope-free’ certification by independent bodies for supplements consumed by athletes.