How Kerala is fighting Covid-19, writes Pinarayi Vijayan – analysis
The world is under the control of a global pandemic that is marked by both lethality and an astonishing spread, on all continents. The emergence of Covid-19 is uncharted territory that demands our focused attention and a calibrated response that is also globally collaborative. The growth and magnitude of the crisis can only be understood in the context of an increasingly globalized world, which is now more connected than at any other time in human history. People, goods and services are part of the global chains. This also creates some unique challenges, especially in the health sector, with indirect effects on the economy and governance. There is little chance that an outbreak will be limited to a particular region. A zoonotic spread in the Chinese province of Hubei has now reportedly stopped the world in twice as fast time.
Kerala has always been a major hub on the global trade route. It is here that Europeans first landed on the Indian continent. The people of Kerala have also traveled everywhere. Proof of this is the fact that the small state has four international airports. Not surprisingly, Kerala has become the first Indian state to report a coronavirus incident. The first wave of the Covid-19 outbreak hit Kerala in the last week of January. The state government responded quickly when Kerala became a bulwark against the disease and successfully prevented local and community transmission. We have to appreciate that Kerala remains one of the few states to accomplish such a feat. Government officials, local governments, the police, health departments, and others have played a crucial role in this effort.
However, the relief turned out to be short-lived. In March, the Sars-CoV-2 virus reached Europe, and eventually North America. This has created some new challenges. Previously, the selection process focused on passengers from China and Korea. With the disappearance of more countries, detecting and tracing contacts became a huge task. The state government made a massive effort to meet the challenge. A large number of initiatives were introduced to strengthen surveillance and control measures against the disease. A 24-hour control room was prepared in the state capital to monitor activities. A single window communication channel was established with all district control rooms for high priority communications, which is routed statewide by the state control room. To enhance monitoring efforts, automated district real-time data capture formats were established. Human resource management teams were established at the state and district levels. We have ensured that sufficient personnel are deployed on the ground for airport surveillance, transportation, isolation services, contact tracing and call center support. The state now has four facilities capable of testing for Covid-19. Six lines are operational at the state call center.
Our mental health professionals are counseling those who are isolated. Our previous experience in the successful fight against Nipah has helped us manage the current crisis. Kerala has one of the best public health networks in the country. Our public health system and health professionals have an integral role in helping Kerala achieve high levels of human development. They are our front-line staff in this effort as well. Teams of officials, which include health professionals and volunteers, maintain constant contact with those under observation. The government has also come up with a number of suggestions to avoid social gatherings in public places to contain the spread of the virus.
We have also been aware of the indirect impacts that restrictions can cause. One such case is the subject of midday meals. Because the anganwadis in the state are closed, we have tried to ensure home delivery of these meals.
Kerala State Drugs and Pharmaceuticals (KSDP), a public sector unit under the Department of Industries, has started production of hand sanitizers. His goal is to produce 100,000 bottles in 10 days. Instructions have been given to involve prisons in mask making to overcome the shortage. Officials at Thiruvananthapuram Jail Prison have delivered the first batch of masks.
We have also launched a mass outreach campaign to improve public awareness. Multilingual campaign materials are being prepared to reach all sectors of society. Kerala is also home to a sizeable population of guest workers from the other Indian states. As coronavirus cases are spiraling across the country, we have intensified the detection process. Now health officials and the police are reviewing entry points to the state. The government and the states of the Union must work together to overcome this pandemic.
Equally important is quickly eliminating the barrage of misinformation circulated by uninformed users of social media and word of mouth. In this regard, Qkopy, a startup incubated under the Kerala Startup Mission, has launched a dedicated mobile app, called GoK-Direct Kerala. A day after its launch, the government was able to issue updates and instructions to more than 200,000 people. The state government also thanks Internet service providers in Kerala, who have agreed to increase network capacity by 30 to 40% to facilitate those who work from home. It will be particularly beneficial for those who work in IT institutions.
Surely, this is an unprecedented crisis that requires a multiple and extraordinary response from us. As far as we know, we are only at the beginning of a great crisis. It would be premature and reckless to make any claim to victory. We must not be complacent or lose hope against this contagion. This too shall pass. Overcome. But we need to force all our resources to mount a response that complies with the deadly virus in all its ramifications.
Pinarayi Vijayan is the Prime Minister of Kerala.
The opinions expressed are personal.