In 2020, the ‘Kerala model’ for COVID management garnered international attention, but a year later, things in the Southern state are far from perfect. Rising COVID cases, along with the recent outbreak of the Zika virus, have become a concern.
The state is reporting daily fresh cases between 12,000 and 15,000 with health experts saying “there is no end in sight to the prolonged surge”.
The state had reported 14,087 fresh COVID-19 infections on Saturday and 109 deaths, taking the total caseload to more than 30 lakh and toll to more than 14,000. On Sunday, there were 12,000+ cases. Health Minister Veena George had recently said the virus numbers spiked due to certain unlock measures and that they were expected to go down.
While on June 1 this year, Kerala reported 19,760 positive cases, there was a slight decline for a week with 9,313 new cases being recorded on June 7. However, two days later, it shot up to 16,204. To add to its woes, the state now has 15 active Zika virus cases and a Central team is in the state to assist the government in handling the situation.
Incidentally, India’s first COVID-19 case emerged from the state in January 2020 when a third-year medical student from Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus in China, tested positive.
While medical experts, who spoke to PTI, praised the Kerala government for its preventive measures which helped keep the infection rate from peaking drastically, some said the administration’s inability to enforce COVID-19 appropriate behaviour after the unlock phase came into effect was one of the reasons that the numbers had not gone down.
“Vaccination is the key and the state government should try to procure the vaccines by whatever means instead of just relying on the central government for supply,” officials said. A prolonged infection rate would put stress on doctors and other healthcare workers and in case a third wave comes, the medical system which is partially filled could be overwhelmed.
Dr T.S. Anish, who specialises in community medicine, said the present situation has its pros and cons. He also said it was a matter of concern that the government was unable to reduce the rate of infection. According to him, some of the measures taken by the government were unscientific, like allowing overcrowding at shops and liquor vends and not making available services online that could be.
“Crowding has to be prevented at any cost,” Dr. Anish said, adding, while people wear masks out in the streets, they do not do so in their workplaces or during a celebration. Virologist Dr. Sarada too said people were not following COVID appropriate behaviour which was also a reason for the high COVID-19 cases.
Dr. Sarada and Dr. Anish were of the view that vaccination was the key, the only solution and the state government should try to get the vaccine in more quantities by whatever means. Sarada also said that other states may not be showing such high numbers as they probably were not testing their rural population unlike Kerala.
Dr. Anish said the government was able to prevent a sharp increase during the peak of the second wave of COVID by putting in place a lockdown and thereby, ensured the healthcare system was not overwhelmed. This steady rate of infection could also help to prevent a third wave as the health system or machinery would be vigilant and would quickly detect any new variant or mutation.
Dr. Amar Fettle, the state nodal officer for COVID-19, said that the Kerala government was carrying out extensive testing to ensure no one who is infected is missed out and it was taking measures to ensure elderly people and children, who would be vulnerable to infection, are protected.
“Testing is being carried out in high-risk groups,” Fettle said. He added that after a long period of lockdown when unlock phase comes into effect, people venture out and therefore, the infection starts to spread again.
“A prolonged surge is better than a short spike or wave, as then the healthcare system will not be overburdened,” Dr. Fettle said. However, he said it cannot be predicted how long this trend will go on and when the numbers will go down.
Kerala Health Minister Veena George said on Friday, “The government’s endeavour was to ensure the number of infected persons never goes above the medical capacity of the state, so that no one dies due to non-availability of beds or oxygen.” She had also said that vaccination was the only way to prevent the spread of the virus. She added that preventive mechanisms like enforcing lockdowns, earmarking containment zones, aggressive testing and tracing by the state government ensured a large number of people susceptible to the infection were protected.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had expressed concern over the persistently high number of COVID-19 cases coming from Maharashtra and Kerala.
Both the opposition parties, the Congress and BJP, have attacked the ruling dispensation in Kerala over COVID-19 related casualties, alleging a ‘mismatch’ in their numbers while George maintained that the government has nothing to hide and all deaths were being reported. Former health minister K.K. Shailaja had also been slammed when the COVID-19 cases had gone up steadily during her tenure.
*Zika was first discovered in 1947 in Uganda and is named after a forest of the same name.
*According to WHO, Zika is transmitted through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito, which can also transmit chikungunya, dengue and yellow fever.
*A WHO fact sheet on Zika says most people with Zika do not develop symptoms. The symptoms, when visible, are mild and include fever, rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise or headache. Symptoms last for 2–7 days.
*No virus is available for the virus now
(With inputs from Agencies)