Fight against COVID-19: Kerala shows the way

Fight against COVID-19: Kerala shows the way

By Taisha Grace Antony | April 10 2020, 12:45 PM SGT 

 

Kerala’s multi-pronged approach to the COVID-19 crisis has earned the state administration acclaim across India and the world. The state’s preparations to deal with a possible outbreak of the coronavirus, began as soon as the global community began to get a wind of what was being reported from Wuhan.Recognizing that there was no time to be lost if the virus spread from China, K. K. Shailaja, the Health Minister of Kerala, held a high-level meeting to discuss the outbreak of COVID-19 as early as 25 January 2020, five days before the first positive case in India was reported on 30 January from Kerala itself.

By the time three cases were confirmed in the state in early February, a state-level rapid response team (SRT), under the Health Minister, was constituted. 18 state-level committees were set up to coordinate various aspects in liaison with the district-level committees. These sub-committees include surveillance, isolation, treatment, mental health training and counselling, among others. Additionally, press conferences became a daily feature of the state government’s response to the outbreak. This contributed significantly in generating a high degree of awareness as well as alertness among the general population about the impending pandemic and the kind of preparedness expected of them in dealing with it.

Right at the onset, Kerala had readied a Plan A and Plan B for dealing with COVID-19 related emergencies. A Plan C was also developed when the second wave of COVID-19 cases were reported in the state in early March, to prepare for the eventuality of the COVID-19 cases entering the social transmission stage in the state. Kerala is now moving ahead as per Plan A, wherein fifty government hospitals and two private hospitals have been identified and 1,216 isolation beds have also been arranged.

Once the second wave of COVID-19 cases were reported in Kerala, the State Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan himself started to monitor the situation and for better coordination, rapid response teams similar to the SRT were constituted at the district level as well. Each district has been brought under the charge of a Minister.

The state government launched a campaign called “break the chain” to sensitize the public about the mandatory need for keeping the highest level of personal hygiene to prevent the spread of the virus. Under this initiative, the government installed water dispensers along with hand-sanitizers at public places implementing the basic hygiene measures. The government has also been conducting rigorous contact tracing, publishing route maps showing the locations where the infected persons have been to and asking people who were present at that time at those places to get tested. The state launched a mobile application called GoK Direct, which has been quite effective in disseminating information regarding COVID-19 in real time even without the internet.

Kerala was also the first state to stipulate a 28-day quarantine period, whereas at the international- and national-level it was only 14 days. With a population of 35 million, and a density well above the national average, quarantine is not easy to achieve. To facilitate this, the Kerala government set up 147 corona care centers at college and school hostels and vacant buildings and flats, across the state.

The state government mobilized its resources and people to mass produce hand sanitizers and masks. For instance, directions were given to engage the tailoring units of prisons to sew masks. Kerala State Drugs and Pharmaceuticals (KSDP), a public sector undertaking, started producing hand sanitizers. Apart from government agencies, the science departments in various colleges across the state, the youth and student wings of the dominant political parties, and various trade unions, self-help groups, etc. were also roped in to ensure the uninterrupted availability of the two essential items. Local administrators formed their own emergency committees and set up groups to clean public areas. Furthermore, the state decided to recruit over 230,000 people, through online registration, as volunteers to support its action plan. In order to address the possible mental health issues arising from these difficult times, the state government adopted an inter and intra-departmental coordination approach, involving various professional bodies and other stakeholders, to effectively deal with the situation.

The Kerala government announced a stimulus package worth INR 20,000 crores (approximately US$2.620 billion) to be disbursed through various welfare schemes. Not only was the state the first in India to offer such a package, it was also a record for Kerala itself which was gradually returning to normalcy after the devastating floods in 2018 and 2019. The package includes loan assistance to families through the various self-help groups, higher allocations for the Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, advance payment of social welfare pension for two months, distribution of free ration, and special payments to distressed persons outside the purview of the welfare pension scheme.

Two strong pillars of the economy – tourism and remittances which make up one-tenth of the state GDP each – have slowed down drastically. This international character of the state makes it all the more susceptible to pandemics. This situation is further accentuated by the non-resident Keralites (NRKs) returning to the state, putting further pressure on an already over-stressed situation. But the state not only welcomed all the returnees, it also listed a slew of measures including setting up of five COVID-19 help desks in every country with a large population of Keralites, and provided for online medical consultations to its people compelled to stay back in their destinations of work.

In light of the 21-day national lockdown, the state government opened 4,503 relief camps for its 144,000 “guest” migrant workers, set up 500 community kitchens and provided doorstep delivery of food and other essentials. In total, the state has 15,541 of the 22,567 government-run relief camps for migrant workers in the country, amounting to 69 percent of all the relief camps and shelters run by state governments across India. It has also conducted the highest number of COVID-19 tests among the states in the country so far.

The state has drawn heavily on the crisis management experience it gained in dealing with the unprecedented floods of 2018 and the unique experience gained in dealing with the Nipah virus outbreak the same year. As a result of the very effective planning, strategizing, institutional arrangements, comprehensive testing and financial support provided to the vulnerable sections, Kerala’s confirmed cases which were the second highest in the country a few weeks ago, has now fallen to the 8thspot. As of 9 April, the state has already achieved the rare feat of flattening the COVID-19 curve. With the highest recovery rate of over 24% among those under treatment and the lowest mortality rate of 0.5% among the affected persons, Kerala’s track-record in dealing with the COVID-19 situation is indeed exceptionally remarkable and worth emulation.

 

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Image credts: Deccan Herald

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