Money & Banking

Covid-19: Bank staff in Kerala gripped by fear of community spread

Vinson Kurian Thiruvananthapuram | Updated on June 30, 2020

The suspected potential for community spread of the Covid-19 pandemic has raised the hackles of bank staff in North Kerala, which is witnessing increasing incidence of the virus without a known source. The administration has already launched rapid antibody testing in vulnerable areas.

On Monday, the Wayanad District Collector and Chairperson ordered the closure of the Sulthan Bathery branch of Union Bank of India citing unmanageable crowding. Situated in the predominantly agrarian hill district, the branch has been witnessing unprecedented rush of customers as the interest subventions and prepayment service for agriculture loans come to an end today (June 30).

Photographic evidence

The order from the District Collector said that it has been reported with photographic evidence that a large number of people had gathered in front of the branch to do business on Monday. “Though the public has the right to access banking services, it is the responsibility of the bank concerned to manage the crowd in a disciplined manner and avoid violation of the directions issued with respect to maintaining social distancing,” it said.

“Therefore, the bank has been ordered to close down from today (Monday). The branch manager shall set up proper social distancing measures to avoid such crowding in future. The branch can resume operations after complying with the guidelines. The tehsildar has been asked to verify and report the status by this evening (Tuesday),” the Collector said in the order.

Pandemic enters new phase

A Raghavan, General Secretary, State Bank Staff Union (SBSU), Kerala Circle, said here that the three-month-old reign of the Covid-19 virus is entering a new phase marked by fears over community spread in the northern districts of the state. Post-lockdown, a large number of home-coming customers from outside the state as well as from abroad have been crowding the branches.

The entire bouquet of services is open for customers now, Raghavan told BusinessLine. The deadline for agricultural loans has only added to crowding. The social distance norms are often observed in their branch. There is no facility to check the health status of customers either, he said. All Saturdays should be declared banking holidays, he added.

Bank staff infected

“News about a few of the bank staff getting infected from as yet unknown sources has unnerved the community in vulnerable areas. Authorities should take urgent steps to avoid a situation where branches don’t prospectively become hotspots. Adequate number of staff must be ensured to streamline the crowd. Thermal scanners should be set up at the branches,” Raghavan said.

The bank staff should also be brought within the scope of random testing underway in vulnerable districts. All branches and ATMs should be sanitised at frequent intervals. Adequate number of police or health workers should be deployed there, he said, adding that the branches must also be brought under the watch of the local administration.

Published on June 30, 2020

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