Medical experts and healthcare workers have urged the Kerala government to impose an immediate lockdown as the state continues to post record-breaking COVID-19 cases.
On Thursday Kerala recorded another one-day high of 38,607 new cases, with average test positivity rate (TPR) of 24.5 per cent.
Sources told The Federal that the government will impose stringent measures once the assembly election results are declared on May 2. But experts warn any more delay will prove costly considering the TPR.
The Indian Medical Association – a national voluntary organisation of doctors – has been demanding a lockdown for the past one week. “We have given sufficient warnings,” Dr Gopikumar P, the state secretary of IMA, told The Federal. “As of now, the positivity rate is doubling every two/three days. Today there are two-and-a-half lakh positive cases. Kerala will be able to manage even if it goes up to three-and-a-half lakh, but the entire system will collapse if it goes beyond that.”
A 10-day lockdown will help to bring down the infectivity rate, according to experts. “We have to bring down the R value to one or less than one,” said Dr Gopikumar.
The R value tells the average number of people who will contract a contagious disease from one person with that disease. For example, if a disease has an R value of 3, a person who has the disease will transmit it to an average of 3 others. During the first wave, Kerala successfully kept the R value at less than one.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said on April 21 that Kerala currently has 9,735 ICU beds and 3,776 ventilator facilities (private and public sector). Given the total bed capacity, the state can manage two lakh admissions at a time. As of now only 24,009 patients are in hospitals. However, doctors and public health experts do not see this as a reason to relax. “Our capacity is very limited. Once it is exhausted, we will be in trouble. In worst-hit districts such as Ernakulam, Kozhikode and Thrissur, the hospitals are almost full,” Dr Padmanabha Shenoy, an expert on SARS-CoV-2, told The Federal.
Kerala has 1,458 hospitals in the private sector, according to the IMA. “All of the hospitals cannot be transformed into COVID-29 facilities. Only those hospitals that have a bed capacity of 100 and above are eligible for this purpose,” Dr Jayakrishnan, chairman, Hospital Board of India, IMA, told The Federal. According to him, the state does not have more than a hundred hospitals that meet the required standards of infrastructure for COVID treatment.
Though the state’s average test positivity is 24.5 (as on April 29), the situation seems to be alarming in many local clusters. TPRs in most of the panchayats in Thrissur and Ernakulam districts have touched 51 per cent over the past week. “The Centre has instructed to go for lockdown if the test positivity rate crosses 15. We don’t know why the state government is reluctant to do so,” Dr Gopikumar said.
The CM has announced “very strict restrictions” for six days from May 4 to 9. There is speculation that a complete lockdown might be announced if the LDF returns to power.
“The problems lies not only with bed capacity and ICU/ventilator occupancy. What is the use of all these facilities if there are no doctors and nurses?” said a doctor on COVID duty at a government hospital, who did not want to be quoted.
“We are entering a very critical situation in which we face severe shortage of health professionals.”