Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan on March 19 announced a Rs 20,000-crore financial package to tackle the crisis caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic. The package includes Rs 500 crore for health initiatives, and Rs 2,000 crore for loans and free ration.

Kerala is the second worst-hit state in India, with 27 positive cases. Of this, three people have recovered. As of Thursday evening, the Indian government said there were 173 positive COVID-19 cases in India, and four people have died. COVID-19 has infected more than 2,22,000 people and killed over 9,000 across the world.

"At least 31,173 people are under surveillance, of whom 237 are in observation in hospitals across the state," he said.

Detailing the financial package, Vijayan said loans worth Rs 2,000 crore would be made available to needy families through all-women network 'Kudumbashree' during April-May.

Rural employment guarantee programmes worth Rs 1,000 crore each will be implemented in April-May, he said.

Social security pension of Rs 1,320 crore, to be given in April, would be distributed this month, he said, adding that 50 lakh people are benefited through the pension scheme.

Those belonging to the below poverty line (BPL) and Anthyodaya, who are not receiving social security pension, would be given Rs 1,000 each, for which Rs 100 crore would be earmarked.

Cutting across APL and BPL families, 10 kg free ration would be given and Rs 100 crore would be set apart for the purpose, he said.

A string of 1,000 low-cost hotels, providing food at Rs 20, would be opened across the state next month, the chief minister added.

The 'fitness' charges of autorickshaws and taxis and one month tax of stage and contract carriages would be waived, Vijayan said.

Consumers would be given a month to clear their electricity and water bills and film theatres would get entertainment tax waiver.

Vijayan said he had held a meeting of various defence heads in the state here and they have promised all help.

They have promised the services of their hospitals, doctors, paramedical staff and barracks and ambulances for coronavirus care.

Helicopter services would also be provided to the state for transporting medicines, sick people and food at various places in case of emergency.

Asked about the several Keralites being stranded in Italy, he said, "Our effort is to bring all of them back to the state."

The chief minister also asked people to stay away from the Bharani festival at Kodungalloor on Friday which normally sees a heavy turnout of devotees from all over the state.

The Southern Railway has cancelled five long distance and eight passenger trains due to poor turnout of people following the coronavirus outbreak.

Meanwhile, the Kerala high court on Thursday directed banks, financial institutions and Income Tax authorities to defer recovery proceedings till April 4.

Authorities dealing with GST, recovery of tax on motor vehicles and building tax have also been asked to stall recovery proceedings till April 4, Justice Amit Rawal said in his order.

Recovery cases were piling up in the court on a daily basis and today itself 80 such cases have come up, the judge said.