The state of Kerala, has dropped 30 percent in number of new coronavirus cases in the first week of April compared to the week before, despite being the first state in India to report a coronavirus case in late January. It has been reporting fresh cases of the novel coronavirus in single digits for the past few days.
From one infection on January 30 to 378 on April 13 and two deaths so far, the state has seen 198 people recover. It recorded its highest cases in a day (39) on March 27, and the lowest on March 19 (1). On April 12, it was just two cases. It realised early on the potential lethality of a curve arcing sharply upward.
The success of Kerala government can be attributed to a number of their methods which has just seen just two deaths and the highest percentage of positive patient recoveries in the country. Even as of yesterday, the number of cases has been dropping, yet they have conducted over 13,000 tests – which is more than some states that have half the population as that of Kerala.
Starting early also helped the state in its fight against Coronavirus. The state government machinery cranked up into action even before the three students returning from Wuhan were tested positive.
All the state’s five airports were linked to ambulances and emergency response in district hospitals. Any passenger with a fever, cough or sore throat was immediately shifted to a linked hospital and from there a message passed on to the district medical office.
At the core of Kerala’s success in its fight against Covid-19 is the decentralisation of power and the efficient functioning of local bodies in the state.
The state successfully enlisted the help of health inspectors, junior health inspectors, ASHA workers, and anganwadi staff who reach out to people even in remote locations. They are the first line of defence in the fight against any contagious disease.
The local village council galvanised local health and community workers and opened a community kitchen to feed the people in isolation.
They have been providing free lunches for more than 1,200 people in the area – local residents and stranded migrant workers. Local health officers are making sure that villagers on medication get their pills on time.
Using a local helpline and two WhatsApp groups, the council encouraged local villagers to accommodate people who were in isolation and didn’t have enough space for social distancing at home. Two-dozen families vacated floors and even homes for this. Everyone in isolation now has to observe a 28-day quarantine.
It set up district control rooms, started procuring masks, gloves, other personal protection equipment (PPE) and medicines. It ordered district hospitals to designate isolation wards. Within weeks, on February 4, it declared the Covid-19 threat a state disaster. Contact tracing was meticulous. Manual surveillance, from January 30 to March 8, began with interviewing individual patients and working backwards to people with whom they had been in touch.
Kerala’s efficient tracking system succeeded in containing the second stage of coronavirus infections. The state government managed to create this system with the help of health workers, local authorities, and the state police. The action starts at airports, railway stations and major transit points by testing temperature, identifying possible patients and advising them to undergo quarantine.
The state is now drawing up plans to exit the lockdown in a phased manner. However, Kerala’s biggest challenge will be the mass influx of Non-Resident Keralites (NRKs) — particularly, Gulf Malayalees— in the period post-lockdown.
“Currently, we have had some success in containing the spread. However, we are expecting large scale migration — Malayalees from outside, which will change this situation totally. We think a minimum of 100,000 people would fly in to Kerala (post lockdown). It could go up to even 300,000 or 400,000 people, particularly from the Gulf. We cannot rule out this possibility,” Minister Thomas Isaac said recently.