As the novel coronavirus or COVID-19- continues to spread in an exponential manner across the globe, healthcare systems are overburdened and are finding it difficult to control the global epidemic. Amid this crisis, Kerala’s attempts at tackling the virus have gathered praise from many. On Monday, the Supreme Court of India praised the arrangements made in prisons across the state in the backdrop of second wave of virus outbreak.
The court noted that Kerala government has set up isolation cells within its prisons across the state. Inmates who are showing COVID-19-like symptoms are being shifted to these isolation cells. New inmates, too, will be kept in these cells in the admission block for six days before shifting them to the regular prison cells. However, this particular move is only a small part of the strategic plan of the ruling Left Front government in the state to fight the pandemic.
State Health Minister KK Shailaja and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, with their handling of the crisis, have set an example and managed to win support of the people as well as various organisations.
Kerala’s and India’s first case of COVID-19 was reported in early February—a medical student who had come back from Wuhan, the then epicentre of the outbreak, in China. Later, two more returnees from Wuhan tested positive and the state government stepped in to contain the virus and its further spread. The Health Department had traced all the persons who were in contact with these infected persons and quarantined them and thus the state managed to tackle the first of COVID-19 cases in the state.
The second wave of infections was reported after a family from Ranni of Pathanamthitta district carried the virus while returning from Italy. As of March 17 evening, the total number of COVID-19 cases reported in Kerala stands at 24. With an increasing number of people returning from virus-affected countries, the state’s Health Department has already beefed up measures to contain the virus.
Contact tracing and Surveillance
Infection to a few positive cases was because of direct contact with carriers. So, the contact tracing is an important task in containing the deadly virus. As KK Shailaja had pointed out in an interview with NewsClick “Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China, the Kerala State Health Department had begun taking preventive measures and preparing to fight against it on a war footing.”
Now the surveillance mechanisms at airports and seaports have been tightened, primarily to detect people with COVID-19 infection. People from outside the country are strictly advised to observe self-quarantine for 28 days. All the entry points of the state including rail and road are under strict surveillance and a team of health officials along with police personnel are screening people to detect the virus-affected persons.
In an effort to curtail the spread of the virus, a large team is working on the ground, engaged in a massive exercise to identify the persons who have come in contact with the virus-affected patients. Apart from the health officials, panchayat members, ASHA workers and Kudumbasree members among others are part of this drive.
During last week, the district authorities started to publicise the route maps of the infected people detailing where the infected person landed, which all places they visited, etc. In case of the Ranni family, around 16 squads led by the District Collector and the District Medical Officer (DMO) travelled across the district to identify the places visited by the family and to track their contact.
To quarantine the virus-infected persons as well suspected cases, Coronavirus OP and isolation wards have been set up in all medical colleges and general or district hospitals across the state.
People in isolation have been provided with facilities including food, internet connection, and counselling. On Tuesday, natives who have been put in isolation at Kalamassery Medical College in Ernakulam were given dosa, boiled egg, tea and oranges for breakfast. The foreign nationals, however, were served toasts, omelette without onion, soup and fruit juice. Along with the breakfast, the patients have also been given a newspaper.
Improved Internet connectivity and home delivery of mid-day meal
Though the Anganwadis across the state are shut, the state government has declared that mid-day meals for the kids will be be ensured. So, food items are being delivered to the children’s homes. Also, the government, along with the respective local bodies, is taking care of the families which have been quarantined. Food is being delivered to the families under observation.
The chief minister has also announced that the government will ensure quality and availability of broadband internet across the state.
“As more people will be working from their homes, efforts are being made to improve the quality and availability of the broadband internet,” he tweeted. Hours after his declaration, this was implemented in the state.
Role of PSUs and mass organisations
An increasing sense of fear among the public had resulted in panic buying and it had led to scarcity of masks and hand sanitisers in local markets. As the market faced shortage of sanitisers, Kerala State Drugs and Pharmaceuticals (KSDP), a public sector undertaking (PSU) in Alappuzha, started producing hand sanitisers to tackle the low availability and high pricing.
Industries Minister E.P. Jayarajan said that “these will be made available to the public at a fraction of the price charged by private companies”. A 500 ml bottle of sanitiser from KSDP costs Rs 125, while the market value of 100 ml hand sanitisers from private companies is between Rs 150 and Rs 200.
Besides, on Saturday, the chief minister said that the tailoring units of prisons had been directed to sew face masks. "It has commenced on a war footing basis," he tweeted. The first batch of masks produced by the Central Prison in Thiruvananthapuram had already been handed to officials of the Health Department.
Apart from the government, the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) has also taken up this matter. DYFI units in various places have taken over the task of sewing masks and have handed over the masks to various hospitals including the Government Medical College at Thrissur.
Awareness campaigns from various departments are underway and these are being propagated through various mediums. Social media handles of all ministers and Health Department give timely updates and directions to the public. The press briefings of the chief minister, health minister and other officials from the Department focus on spreading awareness among the public, emphasising the need of being vigilant rather than panicking.
On Sunday, the Kerala government ran a campaign titled ‘Break the Chain’ to spread a message about importance of public and personal hygiene. The campaign encourages hand sanitising in order to prevent spread of coronavirus. As part of the campaign—which has been received by the public which much enthusiasm—various groups and organisations are installing mobile handwashing units at every nook and corner, especially at public places like bus stops, markets, etc.
The government is making sure that its campaigns reach migrant workers as well. The chief minister has been tweeting all instructions and directions in Hindi and Bengali as well.
CM said, “We have asked the officials to visit migrant labour camps in the state and create awareness among them by using those who can speak their language. We have also given instructions to keep their localities clean.”