Setback in Kerala’s Anti-Covid Battle: State Must Regain Initiative

Thiruvananthapuram: There is no mistaking it. Kerala has suffered a setback in the war against the dreaded Covid-19.  The dangerous development is evident from the massive spike in Covid positive cases in the recent days.  The disturbing surge can be attributed to a variety of factors.

Topping the list is the return, in large numbers, of Indians stranded in foreign countries without proper testing at the boarding point. A highly disturbing feature of the situation is the failure of many countries to follow the Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) of allowing only Covid-negative people to leave the country. In a shocking state of affairs, only temperature screening is done at the boarding point, and not the antibody tests.

It may be mentioned that Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had drawn the attention of the Prime Minister to this serious lapse, and requested the Government to take up the matter with embassies, consulates in foreign countries. But the dangerous trend does not seem to have been reversed.  The Kerala CM had warned that this major lapse could infect passengers boarding the plane. And his worst fears seem to have come true.  The massive spike in the number of covid positive people who have returned to the State is self-explanatory. More than 4,300 expatriates have returned so far. And 65 persons have tested positive so far.

The situation could worsen in the coming days with as many as 36 more flights set to bring back Indians stranded abroad. And these flights would be bringing back Indians in red zone countries like the USA and UK. Unless preventive measures are taken fast, the situation may well go out of control. Incidentally, May 22 witnessed the biggest surge in positive cases – 42 – in the State.

Another reason for the big surge in Covid positive case is the reluctance of the returnees to reveal their health condition and medical history.  There have been several instances of people hiding their health status and getting identified as showing signs of covid-19 on returning to the State.

Another contributory factor to the surge in positive cases is the illegal entry of a large number of Keralites from neighbouring states like Tamil Nadu. The alarming rise in illegal entrants has forced the Kerala Government to reconsider the policy of issuing passes to the Keralites coming from other states. Some States like Karnataka have already barred entry to people from Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.

There have been lapses on the part of the Kerala Government, too. For instance, the LDF Government had suggested institutional quarantine for the returnees only for one week and home isolation for the second week. A large number of people seem to have taken unfair advantage of this, and violated the guidelines regarding quarantine and isolation.  In fact, more than 300 people who had been ‘sentenced’ to home isolation were found to be violating the guidelines with impunity.

This being the ground reality in Kerala, the Centre has insisted on a 14-day institutional quarantine for all returnees – and rightly so. Kerala must, hereafter strictly enforce the two-week quarantine at Government-controlled facilities. There should be no leniency in this.

One thing Kerala must do without fail is to increase the testing. If necessary, the State must import more kits, say, from South Korea, and go for massive testing, followed by quarantine and isolation procedure. This is what Andhra Pradesh did with considerable success. Kerala would do well to emulate AP’s example and benefit from it.  Any slackening of the intensity of the anti-Covid battle is a recipe for disaster. The drift and uncertainty in the strategy in the war on corona must come to an end.

Failure to do that will take the shine off the excellent record of Kerala in prevention and containment of the dreaded virus so far. Remember, Kerala had earned national and international praise for its excellent performance in containing Covid-19. The United Nations and the World Health Organisation (WHO) had lavished praise on Kerala and its Health Minister, and even suggested that other countries adopt the Kerala model in the war against covid-19. Kerala must shed its ambivalence and regain the momentum and the initiative it has lost in the anti-Covid battle.

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