Fight Against COVID-19: What Rest Of India Can Learn From Kerala’s Success

Jason Hickel, an economic anthropologist and a senior lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, praised Kerala for the way it handled the COVID-19 pandemic, saying the way the state handled the pandemic puts the ‘so-called first world’ to shame.

“Kerala’s COVID-19 response has been humane, caring and successful. They’ve kept their death toll to 2, and new cases are falling thanks to widespread community testing. It puts the so-called “first world” to shame,” he tweeted.

Kerala recorded the first three cases of coronavirus in India in late January, all three victims being Indians who had studied in Wuhan. The state soon began implementing mandatory quarantines for visitors arriving from China, weeks before the Centre instituted similar measures across the country.

In early March, a BBC News talk show referred to the success of Kerala in containing the first three positive cases of coronavirus and its previous record in dealing with the Nipah and Zika viruses.

While Kerala currently has 364 cases of coronavirus, the state is in the eighth position among Indian states with most number of coronavirus cases. Moreover, it has recorded the highest number of recoveries, with 123 people getting better as of Saturday.

Not surprisingly, this impressive track record has earned world attention.

Reeling from one of the highest mortality rates in the country, Maharashtra government has decided to study Kerala’s model in dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak and its success in flattening the pandemic graph.

While Maharashtra has a mortality rate of nearly 7%, Kerala, which reported the country’s first Covid-19 case in January, has the lowest mortality rate of 0.6%.

On Friday, The Washington Post had credited the “robust response” of Kerala to the coronavirus pandemic. The publication noted Kerala resorted to “aggressive testing, intense contact tracing, instituting a longer quarantine, building thousands of shelters for migrant workers stranded by the sudden nationwide shutdown and distributing millions of cooked meals to those in need”. The Washington Post explained that the number of new coronavirus cases in Kerala in the first week of April had dropped “30 per cent” from the previous week.

The report noted Kerala had conducted over 13,000 tests for coronavirus by the first week of April, more than larger states such as Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Kerala was also taking a lead in doing rapid tests and walk-in tests. The article explained Kerala faced a “potentially disastrous challenge” from the coronavirus, given the high number of expatriates and foreign tourist arrivals in the state.

In 2018, the state had dealt with an outbreak of Nipah, a brain-damaging virus that, like the coronavirus, had originated in bats and transferred to humans. And, as with covid-19, there was no vaccine and no cure. Seventeen people had died, but the World Health Organization (WHO) called Kerala’s handling of the outbreak a “success story” since—despite technical shortfalls—the state’s health system had contained a potential disaster.

An article published in the MIT Review says while the rest of India, along with countries such as the UK and the US, wouldn’t take stringent steps to limit movement for another two months, Kerala had ordered Kerala’s four international airports to start screening passengers in January. All those with symptoms were taken to a government facility, where they were tested and isolated; their samples were flown to the National Institute of Virology 700 miles away. By February, Kerala had a 24-member state response team coordinating with the police and public officials across Kerala.

Kerala has maintained its focus on social welfare. Its health-care system is ranked the best in India, with world-class nurses who are headhunted for hospitals in Europe and America; the state’s life expectancy figures are among the highest in the country.

There were other reasons why Kerala was better equipped to deal with the crisis than most places. It is small and densely populated, but relatively well-off. It has a 94% literacy rate, the highest in India, and a vibrant local media. Elsewhere in the country, people were taking WhatsApp rumors at face value—for example, spreading messages claiming that exposure to sunlight could protect against the virus. But in Kerala, most people realized the seriousness of the situation.

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