It has been 68 days since the first positive case of coronavirus was tested in India. This case was detected in Kerala, and since then Kerala has been fighting the pandemic on a war footing. The state has been taking stringent measures to ensure that they curb the spread of the virus. Kerala has seen one of the highest numbers of cases in the country, with 327 cases as of 07 April. Kerala has, despite the rising cases, ensured that it uses all resources available to beat the virus
Lessons learnt from Nipah: Tracking the spread
In 2018 Kerala faced the Nipah outbreak which took the lives of 17 people. This was one of the toughest challenges that the state has had to face. In an interview with The Week, Kerala’s Health Minister, K.K Shailaja, said, “… our tryst with Nipah had been a great learning experience. Having survived it, all of us knew the importance of calculation, planning, and coordination. It also taught us the importance of being vigilant.” With this experience, Kerala has managed to use its very strong health care system to curb the outbreak. The government has enlisted volunteers to tackle this health emergency.”
Kerala has the highest number of tests done in the country. It does 12.1 tests per 1 lakh of the population, which is well above the national average. It also has kicked off its rapid testing centers, which detects the infection in two and a half hours instead of seven hours. Ernakulam district has also started a Walk-In Sample Kiosks (WISK) which allows samples to be taken quickly to enable mass screening.
The Kerala government has initiated a massive tracking exercise to trace people who have come in contact with COVID positive patients. Trained health care workers, ASHA workers, Kudumbashree workers have been asked to track people even if the contact was minimal. “Our officials had traced those who returned to Kerala from infected areas and isolated them even if they had minor symptoms. Some others were home quarantined. Trained health workers were deployed to assist them. It was all a team effort. Luckily, Kerala has a team of duty-bound officials and experts who managed the situation with extreme dedication and courage,” K. K. Shailaja said in an interview with Huffington Post.
The Kerala government has been vigilant throughout this process. When a family of three from Italy broke the rules of getting tested at the airport and travelled across the district of Pathnamthitta, the state government released a route map of wherever they travelled. This allowed more people to self-assess and come forward in case they had been in contact with the family. In fourteen affected districts in Kerala there are dedicated cells formed to map the person’s route and see who all they came in contact with and this is shared through news and social media.
Those who have been quarantined or isolated have healthy meals delivered to them, have counselors checking in on their mental state, and have free WiFi for the period that they are quarantined. They also provide essentials to those who are in palliative care and the elderly. Those quarantined have health workers and police visits to check if they are following the quarantine rules and if they are in need of anything.
The Kerala State Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Ltd. will start manufacturing sanitizers to meet the demand. Inmates in jails have been ordered to produce masks, though this raises a series of questions on the ethics of such a practice.
The most important part of this process to tackle the virus has been the Kerala government’s transparency on the matter. Every evening, since the government sprang into action, the Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan and KK Shailaja have been doing press conferences to inform the people about the virus. They both speak about the number of cases in the state, the government’s response to the crisis, what should and should not be done, they are transparent about the steps taken in the state to curb the virus, and shares details of the cases that are positive (barring any personal detail about the resident)
The state has also ensured that it cracks down on the spread of fake news. The State government has created an app to combat fake news called GoK direct. K.K Shailaja said that ‘superstition, credulity, emotionalism and, irrationalism will derail the whole process’ of fighting corona and thus there will also be strict action taken against those who spread this news.
The government has also made efforts to spread awareness among migrant workers to ensure that they are not adversely impacted. “We have asked the officials to visit migrant labour camps in the state and create awareness among them by using those who can speak their language. We have also given instructions to keep their localities clean,” The CM said.
Kerala Model – Hope for the people of the state
Kerala has the highest recovery rate in the country due to its early identification and COVID care wards. Kerala has 5000 doctors in the public sector, and 39,511 beds. It also has other allopathy, homeopathy, and public-private cooperative networks to help them through the crisis. A 20,000-crore relief package has been rolled out that covers health package, MNREGS, subsidized meals, tax waivers, loan assistance, welfare pensions, free food grains, arrear clearance. Kudumbashree will also give loans worth 2000 crores and the interest of loans will born by the state. All these steps provide relief to the citizens in a crisis like this, and Kerala is surely prepared to handle it. This model that Kerala has followed could lead to curbing the virus faster.
The Chief Minister told Mongabay-India prior to the relief announcement, “…the virus has landed Kerala already in a huge financial crisis. Trade and commerce have been hit badly. But we will not dilute our continuing fight against health sector challenges. We wish to be identified globally as a success story of the public sector in healthcare,’’