As the number of COVID-19 positive cases are hitting new records day by day, Kerala government has beefed up the facilities and preparations to accommodate more patients. The state is now dealing with the third wave of the infections that has pushed the active cases to over 7,000 in the last over two months. Keeping the rising cases in views, the state government has made arrangements to treat around 50,000 COVID-19 patients at a time, doubling the first line treatment centres to 56.
State Health Minister K K Shailaja said experts have forecast a surge in the number of cases next month but is confident that the government can manage any such a situation with the measures being taken by it.
After successfully containing the spread of the infections since it reported the country's first COVID-19 case on January 30, the state has been witnessing a sharp increase in fresh infections since May with lakhs of people returning from overseas and other parts of the country.
On Monday, July 20, as many as 794 fresh cases of COVID-19 were reported, taking the infection tally to 13,274. However, there was a slight dip in the cases. Thiruvananthapuram saw 182 cases with 2,062 patients presently under treatment. On Sunday, 821 cases were detected, the highest single day surge so far.
As many as 519 people were infected through contact and the source of infection in 24 patients was not known yet. The death toll has climbed to 43 with samples of a 73- year-old nun, who died in Ernakulam on July 16, testing positive for the virus infection. Of the positive cases, 148 had come from abroad and 105 from other states, the Health Minister KK Shailaja said in a press release.
Fifteen health workers were among those who tested positive. At least 7,611 people are presently under treatment and 5,618 have recovered, including 245, who were discharged on Monday. About 1,65,233 people are under observation in various districts - 1,57,523 are in home/institutional quarantine and 7,710 in hospitals, including 871, admitted on Monday. In the last 24 hours, 14,640 samples have been sent for testing. So far, 5,46,000 samples have been tested and results of 5,969 samples awaited. The total number of hot spots has climbed to 337.
Though the caseload is still lower compared to neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, the state is gearing up for any contingency and has ramped up the COVID-19 care infrastructure by adding more first line treatment centres (FLTCs) besides deciding to recruit temporary staff for them so that they can treat up to 50,000 patients at a time.
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"We already have two COVID hospitals in each district. Then as the number increased, we opened one FLTC for each COVID hospital. Thus, we already have 28 FLTCs. Now, we have given direction to increase the number to 56. That is one COVID hospital will have two FLTCs," Shailaja told PTI.
She also said the government has already given directions to each of the 941 panchayats to open at least one FLTC where a special medical team would take care of asymptomatic patients or those with lesser complications.
Some FLTCs have up to 500 beds and at least 2,000 people can be accommodated in each of the 14 districts in the state. Explaining the functioning of the FLTCs, Shailaja said the idea was to de-congest medical college hospitals where seriously ill patients would be treated.
"It can be schools, hostels or any other large building. The government has already released funds for purchase of necessary furniture and equipment for these centres. All districts have been given Rs 10 crore each. The panchayats have been given Rs 50,000 as an advance fund to set up the FLTCs," the minister has said.
When asked about reports on a surge in the number of cases in coming months, the minister said, "We cannot predict that a particular number of cases will be reported within a particular time period. But experts are predicting a surge in the number of cases in August. But we hope the surge can be controlled with our efforts.”
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Earlier, even though Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had declared that the COVID-19 curve has been flattened, he had cautioned a third wave cannot be ruled out when the lockdown norms are eased and people ARE allowed to return to the state. As predicted by him, the state has been witnessing a steady spike in new cases with people stranded due to lockdown in various parts of the globe, especially the Gulf nations, and other states returning home.
Special plans for coastal villages
Last week, the CM had confirmed community spread in two coastal villages in Thiruvananthapuram -- Poonthura and Pulvilla. According to officials, clusters are formed when there is an "unexpected surge in COVID-19 cases" at a particular area and it occurred just before community transmission.
The CM in his press conferences has also said that at least 60% of the patients are asymptomatic in the state, making things more difficult for the Health Department.
As the situation in the coastal regions of Thiruvananthapuram is very sensitive, government has geared up the steps to prevent further spread in the region. According to experts, the high population in these areas is a threat to prevent the spread of virus.
During his press conference on last Friday, July 17, CM Vijayan had outlined the detailed surveillance and disease containment measures for the coastal regions. As per these measures, the coastal regions in Thiruvananthapuram are under triple lockdown since Sunday for 10 days.
For effective implementation of lockdown, the region has been divided into three zones, with District Police Chief- Thiruvananthapuram city- acting as special officer. Zone-1 comprises the northern stretch from Anchuthengu to Perumathura. Perumathura-Vizhinjam and Vizhinjam-Oorambu comprise the second and third zones.
Two senior IAS officers for each zones have been deployed as Incident Commanders. “The containment measures will be jointly enforced by the Health and Police Departments, the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation and panchayats,” Vijayan said.
Food grain supply in these areas will be ensured by the Civil Supplies Department. As of now, the government has declared five kilograms of rice and one kilogram of pulses for each family in these critical containment zones. Milk booths, vegetable stores, grocery stores and meat shops are allowed to open for a limited time in a day. Mobile ATM facilities have also been arranged in these areas.
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(With inputs from PTI)