Surveillance, screening, testing, isolation, contact tracing, counselling, and awareness-building are key steps(Samir Jana / Hindustan Times)
Surveillance, screening, testing, isolation, contact tracing, counselling, and awareness-building are key steps(Samir Jana / Hindustan Times)

How Kerala is battling Covid-19, writes Pinarayi Vijayan

With the initial cases, it was able to prevent transmission. There is now a renewed challenge
By Pinarayi Vijayan
UPDATED ON MAR 18, 2020 06:38 PM IST

The world is in the grip of a global pandemic that is marked by both, lethality and an astounding spread, across continents. The emergence of Covid-19 is uncharted territory that demands our focused attention and a calibrated response that is also globally collaborative. The growth and enormity of the crisis can only be understood in the context of an increasingly globalised world, which is more connected now than at any other point in human history. People, goods and services are all part of global chains. This also creates some unique challenges, especially in the health sector, with spillover effects on the economy and governance. There is little probability of an outbreak being limited to a particular region. A reportedly zoonotic spillover that occurred in the Hubei province of China has now brought the world to a grinding halt in double-quick time.

Kerala has always been an important hub in the global trade route. It is here that Europeans first landed on the Indian mainland. People from Kerala have also travelled far and wide. Evidence of this is the fact that the tiny state has four international airports. It is no surprise that Kerala became the first Indian state to report a coronavirus incident. The first wave of the Covid-19 outbreak reached Kerala in the last week of January. The state government responded swiftly as Kerala became a bulwark against the disease and successfully prevented local and community transmission. We need to appreciate that Kerala remains one of the few states to achieve such a feat. Government officials, local governments, the police, health and other departments have played a crucial role in this effort.

However, the relief proved to be short-lived. By March, the Sars-CoV-2 virus found its way to Europe and eventually to North America. This has created some new challenges. Earlier, the screening process was focused on passengers from China and Korea. With more countries coming under the radar, screening and contact tracing became an enormous task. The state government undertook a massive efforts to rise to the challenge. A plethora of initiatives were introduced to strengthen the surveillance and control measures against the disease. A 24-hour control room was readied in the state capital to monitor the activities. A single-window communication channel was established with all district control rooms for high priority communications, which is headed at the state-level by the state control room. To improve the monitoring efforts, automated real-time data-capturing formats from the districts were established. Human resource management teams were constituted at the state and district levels. We have ensured that enough staff is deployed on the ground for airport surveillance, transportation, isolation services, contact tracing and call centre support. The state now has four facilities capable of testing for Covid-19. Six lines are operational at the state call centre.

Our mental health professionals are giving counselling support to those who are isolated. Our earlier experience in successfully fighting Nipah has helped us handle the current crisis. Kerala has one of the finest public health networks in the country. Our public health system and health professionals have an integral role in helping Kerala attain high levels of human development. They are our frontline staff in this effort too. Teams of officials, which include health professionals and volunteers, are keeping constant contact with those under observation. The government has also come out with a set of suggestions to avoid social gatherings at public places to contain the spread of the virus.

We have also been mindful of the indirect impacts that restrictions can cause. One such case is the issue of midday meals. As anganwadis in the state are closed, we have tried to ensure the home delivery of these meals.

The Kerala State Drugs and Pharmaceuticals (KSDP), a public sector unit under the department of industries, has begun the production of hand sanitisers. It aims to produce 100,000 bottles in 10 days. Directions have been given to engage jails in manufacturing masks to overcome shortages. The prison officials of Thiruvananthapuram Jail have handed over the first batch of masks.

We have also undertaken a massive outreach campaign to improve public awareness. Multilingual campaign materials are being prepared to reach every section of society. Kerala also hosts a sizable population of guest workers from the other Indian states. As the coronavirus cases are spiralling in the country, we have intensified the screening process. Now health officials and police are screening entry points to the state. The Union government and states must work in tandem to overcome this pandemic.

Equally important is to swiftly scotch the barrage of misinformation that is being circulated by uninformed users of social media and through word of mouth. In this connection, Qkopy, a start-up incubated under Kerala Startup Mission, has launched a dedicated mobile app, called GoK-Direct Kerala. Within a day of its launch, the government was able to disseminate updates and instructions to over 200,000 people. The state government also appreciates Internet service providers in Kerala, who have agreed to augment the network capacity by 30 to 40% to facilitate those who are working from home. It will be particularly beneficial for those working in IT institutions.

Surely, this is an unprecedented crisis that demands a multipronged and extraordinary response from our end. From what we know, we are only at the beginning of a major crisis. It would be premature and unwise to make any claims of victory. We should neither become complacent nor should we lose hope against this contagion. This too shall pass. We shall overcome. But we need to strain all our resources in mounting a response that meets the deadly virus in all its ramifications.

Pinarayi Vijayan is the chief minister of Kerala
The views expressed are personal
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