How Kerala Plans to Address Covid’s Third Phase: Analysis
Kerala has the dubious distinction of reporting the first three cases of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in India. But the state government handled the first two phases in an exemplary manner, establishing a template for political leadership and the global health community. Kerala is now preparing for the third round of the coronavirus pandemic, with people returning to the state from foreign countries, many of whom are critical hotspots for Covid-19. Therefore, many of the returnees are likely to be positive.
But I have one thing clear: when the Keralites return from abroad or other states in the country, we have to accept them without reservation. But things cannot be as before.
In the first two phases, around half a million people reached airports and railway stations, crossed border roads, and forest roads that do not have checkpoints, resulting in 512 positive cases. Of these, 70% are from abroad and 30% contracted the virus through contacts. Verifying returnees is depleting the state’s financial and human resources. However, the state government is doing everything possible to keep them under surveillance and therefore protect others from infection.
Prime Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has been involved in managing the pandemic from the start. Kerala is also fortunate in that it has a dedicated administration and committed health workers, and most people have behaved in an extremely responsible manner. But when large numbers of people are kept under surveillance in homes and institutions, it becomes impossible to care for everyone and ensure daily treatment of non-Covid-19 related diseases.
The government has contacted 4.3 million people, and their status is monitored daily by the control room. We must also ensure that patients, including those with lifestyle diseases, take medication on a daily basis. Drug delivery plans, using the noncommunicable disease control wings in the health department, began during the shutdown. Police and firefighters have also helped deliver medications. Heart transplants were performed despite the closure of coronary therapies and operations in many other states. Kerala’s involvement in mental health has been praised by the Center and other states. More than 8,000 counselors have been helping more than 0.8 million people for various psychological ailments.
In the third phase, the challenge of the state is twofold: reducing the spread of contacts and, therefore, unrestricted access to cities and towns by vehicle will pose a serious problem; and make sure everyone who has returned undergoes preliminary testing. Sending them to observation centers is not an easy task. Therefore, the government has put some restrictions on the number of arrivals by land, sea and air, while arranging for police, revenue and health departments and volunteers to help assess the maximum number of people each day.
The state’s focus in the third phase is in the category that is most likely to be easily infected and most likely to be fatal. A large scheme has been planned to exclude older people, pregnant women, young children, people with disabilities and comorbidities from areas affected by coronavirus. In addition to the health, police and social justice departments, anganwadi and accredited social health activists and volunteers are in contact with these cohorts.
A national blockade and the closure of borders can help prevent the spread of Covid-19. However, no country can keep daily activities in limbo for too long. Food shortages, job losses and stagnation of development activities can spell collective devastation. Kerala also plans to relax regulations, without negatively affecting agriculture and industry.
The state must also be on guard against rumors and detractors. I hope that the spirit of never saying die of the people of Kerala lives up to the third phase of the virus. Today, we are in a better position compared to many other states. Highly accurate interventions have helped reduce virus spread and mortality. But this should not make Kerala complacent against a dangerous and invisible enemy.
KK Shailaja is Kerala’s Minister of Health, Social Justice and Development for Women and Children
The opinions expressed are personal.