The first corona virus case in India was confirmed in Kerala on January 30 – a medical student who came from Wuhan in China, the epicentre of the deadly disease. The news sent shivers down the spine. But worse was yet to come. Almost a month down the lane, Kerala was hit by the distressing news of three persons who had landed from Italy testing positive for the virus, and so had two of their elderly relatives. All hell was let loose in the next few days, making Kerala the epicentre of Covid 19 in the country. It was at the top in the ‘Covid list’ of States.
However, it did not take too long for the State to turn the tables. As we pen this piece, Kerala is writing a success story, emulated and applauded across the globe, in containing the contagious disease. It has significantly improved its position and is at 10th place among Corona-hit States, with around 400 cases and just 2 deaths. The State’s recovery rate of patients is five times more than the national average. Its mortality rate is a mere 0.5 per cent of the positive cases while the all-India rate is 3.5 per cent.
It is neither a miracle nor a magic that is happening in Kerala. The State followed the WHO-recommended plan of contact tracing, isolation and surveillance; and it was done with precision. Route-maps of those with positive cases were prepared; their movements were monitored; those who interacted with them were isolated till the chain was complete. After the lockdown was announced, the State went into overdrive, observing it in letter and spirit. ‘Social distancing’ was not limited to orders on paper, it was seen on the ground.
There are several reasons for the Covid 19 curve to flatten so fast in Kerala. The experience in containing Nipah virus came in handy. Intense testing, tracing, isolation and treatment have been the norm. Kerala has apparently the highest test rate in the country. It helped in breaking the chain. The services of health personnel cannot be under-estimated in this do or die fight. While health workers get lip service and brickbats in many places, Kerala has accorded the highest priority and respect to them. The letter of Resident Doctors of Delhi’s AIIMS to Union Home Minister Amit Shah stating that ‘they are not afraid of Corona virus but of assault by people’ should be an eye-opener in this regard. Special training, protective gear and most importantly societal support have contributed in keeping the morale of the health personnel high in Kerala. Above all, the existing robust public health sector, which is in shambles in many States, is the prime factor that helped Kerala take Corona virus head on.
It is important to point out yet another unprecedented crisis that emerged simultaneously: lakhs of migrant workers who are staring at an uncertain future. Many States grappled with it unceremoniously. But Kerala, with NGOs and people chipping in, could instill confidence in them, ensuring their dignified stay in the State.
Kerala’s success story would make even the developed countries feel small. It should compel some of the State governments to rework their strategy. It should make politicians like Yogi Adityanath, the U.P. Chief Minister who advised Kerala to learn from his State in managing health sector, to hang his head in shame. With more support from the Centre, Kerala can be much more than a role model for others.(Published on 20th April 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 17)