Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan abruptly on Thursday announced that the widely popular press conferences held by the state government would not be conducted daily anymore.
The press meet on the coronavirus outbreak held at 6 pm every evening have become regular viewing in Kerala households. The chief minister did now explain why its frequency had been reduced.
“One thing I have to say is that we will not have these meetings every evening now. We will have them on alternate days. That is all I have to say. We will talk about the rest later. Thank you,” Pinarayi said at the end of his press conference on Thursday.
Just before this statement, the CM had been asked by a reporter about the opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala’s comment that the chief minister was not giving clear answers to allegations on the discrepancy in the government’s data contract with US company Sprinklr. Pinarayi replied that Chennithala had simply not understood the government’s detailed clarifications.
While the general impression so far is that the government has been forthcoming about steps taken to contain outbreak in the state, Congress MLAs in the state have mocked Pinarayi’s decision to hold off on the press meets, alluding that it is because of the uncomfortable questions the government is being asked about its contract with Sprinklr.
The chief minister had begun holding daily press conferences, along with health minister K.K. Shailaja, on March 16 as Covid-19 cases in the state began to rise. According to Livemint, the decision to hold these interactions came about in agreement with big media houses to stop the spread of rumours.
BARC data accessed by The NewsMinute showed that on March 23 the TRP for the press meet across eight Malayalam channels had 7.25 rating points. It rose to 9.05 rating points by March 27.
“Prior to the lockdown, prime time viewership usually peaked post 7 pm. But now we see a lot of traffic by 6 pm itself and then it only keeps increasing until 9 and 10 pm,” a journalist working for a Malayalam channel told TNM.
The press meets are also posted on the chief minister’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Facebook viewership, which had initially been around 2-2.5 lakh views when the briefings began in March, have gone up steadily since then to peak at 6.2 lakh views on Wednesday this week.
The press briefings have been a great source of information for people in the state as well as Malayalis living abroad as the government would use this time to give a detail breakdown of cases in the state, the number of people quarantined, the measures being taken to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus as well as relief measures put in place for various sections of society. It also provided useful information on what people needed to do if they suspected they had symptoms or had been in contact with someone who had tested positive.
The interactions also often reflected the severity of the Covid-19 situation in the state based on the tone in which the ministers conveyed information. While Pinarayi usually read out briefings in an impassive tone, it was notable when the chief minister and the health minister admonished people for hiding travel history and other details from authorities.
The meetings gave journalists an opportunity to question the government on gaps in data and information provided by the state as well as bring to light situations that need their intervention.
Kerala is believed to have flattened the curve with a decline in number of new cases as well as people quarantined in the last two weeks. The state was the first to report coronavirus patients in India on January 30.
On Thursday, Kerala had 147 patients under treatment and 88,855 people under observation.
The state said 245 people have recovered from the disease in Kerala while two people have died.