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Kerala not prepared to let down guard against "invisible enemy"

Press Trust of India  |  Thiruvananthapuram 

: With an enviable track

record of having treated and cured 400 COVID-19 patients and reporting only three fatalities with 34 active cases, Kerala may have done reasonably well, but the southern state is not prepared to lower its guard or bask in the glory of its achievement in the fight against the "invisible enemy".

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has time and again reminded everyone thatKerala cannot afford to be complacent.

"We cannot say we have crossed the danger mark or that the danger of community spread no longer exists. We need to be very careful", Vijayan had told reporters.

The state has been receiving accolades for having seemingly "flattenend the curve" of Covid cases, with international media, including the BBC, Al Jazeera, Washington Post and the prestigious MIT Technology Review showering praise on the "Kerala model" of fighting the pandemic.

Kerala's achievement comes at at a time when neighbouring Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are seeing a surge in positive cases.

While accepting that the recovery rate in the state was faster when compared to other states and Kerala was fighting the pandemic in a much more scientific manner, state Home Secretary Vishwas Mehta felt the threat was far from over.

"The threat is not over. For the simple reason that till we get a vaccine, this will continue all over the world.

The recovery in Kerala is fast.We are hovering down. When compared to other states, the number of positive cases, deaths and those under surveillance are coming down in the state.

No one is tackling the pandemic as scientifically as we are doing," Mehta told PTI.

People need to be more careful and notbe "irresponsible in dealing with the invisible enemy," he said.

"The virus will affect those who are not having immunity or has bad health. People must use masks and maintain social distancing. We need to maintain our vigil and continue our fight against it," Mehta said.

Asked if the state had flattened the curve, the state Nodal officer for infectious disease, including COVID-19, Dr Amar Fettle said it requires data for a longer period.

"But overall, the curve has flattened.However, this is no time for relaxing. This is no time for lowering our guard. As there are that we have 'flattened the curve', people have started coming out in the open without using masks," he said.

Kerala has made wearing masks mandatory and has imposed a fine of Rs 5,000 for repeat offenders.

The lessons learnt during the outbreak of the 2018 Nipah virus, which had claimed 17 lives in Kozhikode and Malappuram, including that of a young nurse Lini Puthussuery, came in handy for the state in getting battle ready to face COVID-19.

Health minister K K Shailaja had said that Kerala began its preparations when broke of the outbreak of COVID-19 at the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus, in December lastyear.

The state had many medical students studying in Wuhan and knew that they would be returning.

India's first three cases were from Kerala and by the time they showed some symptoms, they had been already been in isolation in hospitals.

A 20-year-student from Thrissur, who returned from Wuhan, did not have any symptoms when she returned.

But when she developedasore throat and dry cough, she informed the health workers, who used to keep in touch with her on a daily basis and was shifted to a hospital on January 27, three days before her sample tested positive for Covid.

Two others from Wuhan University, hailing from Alapuzha and Kasaragod, also subsequently tested positive for the virus. All three were cured and discharged in February.

The second wave of infections hit Kerala on March 8 when a three-member family from Ranni in Pathanamthittaarrived from Italyand tested positive, along with two of their close relatives.

Subsequently, four more relatives, including Thomas (93) and Mariyamma (88),the parents of Moncy,who had returned along with his wife and son from Italy, also contracted the virus.

All of them were cured and discharged.

The recovery of the elderly couple was a feather in the cap of the state, with experts describing it as the "rarest of rare" case as high mortality rate is generally seen in the older population globally due to the infection.

There was a spike in infections since March 20 when 37 cases were detected, with the graph peaking on April 8 with 259 cases after which therehas been a downward trend of 114 on April 20 and 34 on May 4.

Three fatalities were reported, two of people over 65- years of age and having various other health issues and a four month baby girl.

The state nodal officer, who was a vital part of state machinery in fighting the Nipah virus, said practising social distancing and use of masks is a necessity to fight the pandemic and people must ensure they wear it the moment they step out of their houses, be it inside a cab or at a shop.

Asked about how the state was fighting the virus when compared to other states, Mehta said the "state is 10-15 years ahead of other states".

"We have so many hospitals and doctors in Kerala. We are much much ahead of other states. We have the experience of dealing with the Nipah virus. We have the experience of handling such diseases," Mehta said.

"In the health sector, we are on par with European countries,IMR (Infant Mortality Rate), MMR, death mortality... we are at least 20 years ahead of other states," Mehta said.

What is a cause for concern is that many people who were asymptomatic are among those who tested positive later and the health authorities are clulessfrom where they had contracted the virus.

With Non-Resident Keralites (NRK)s who are expected to arrive in the state from various countries from May 7, the state is waiting with baited breath,hoping positive cases will not see a jump.

So far 4,27 lakh Keralites stranded in various countries, including over 9,000 pregnant women, have registered with the Norka (Non Resident Keralites Affairs) online portal.

Nearly one lakh people from other states have also registered for their return.

Those with expired visiting visas, the aged, pregnant women, children, critically ill patients, students who have completed their courses, and others are among thelarge numbers of people who are waiting to return.

"Around 27,000 institutitions, including hotels, resorts, hostels, schools, lodges stadiums and even auditoriums have been identified where we can accommodate around 10 lakh people. Space has been found. Stadiums and auditoriums will be used as a last resort," Mehta said.

On Monday, for the second consecutive day, no positive cases were reported in the state and the active cases was 34.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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First Published: Tue, May 05 2020. 18:04 IST