Covid era-like containment zones back in Kerala as Nipah resurfaces

By, Kochi
Sep 15, 2023 04:56 AM IST

The panchayat is also holding daily meetings, co-ordinating with the police, and officials from the state’s animal husbandry and health departments

Nine panchayats in Kozhikode district of Kerala have been turned into containment zones, with hundreds of Asha (accredited social health activist) workers visiting homes of residents every day, conducting medical check-ups , monitoring people, and collecting data. The panchayats are also visited by volunteers with food and other daily essentials. Everything is reminiscent of Covid-era restrictions.

A patient being admitted to a Nipah isolation ward at the medical college in Kozhikode (PTI) PREMIUM
A patient being admitted to a Nipah isolation ward at the medical college in Kozhikode (PTI)

Read here: Nipah virus: Past outbreaks, scrutiny helped in case detection

This time, like back then, the enemy is a virus. The containment zones were created after two people died after being infected by the Nipah virus, which causes respiratory distress and encephalitis. Five more are undergoing treatment at the hospitals. The samples of another 11 have been sent to Pune’s National Institute of Virology for testing. And 600 people, in all, are believed to have been exposed to the two people who died.

In Ayancheri , Moidu Master Kattil, the local panchayat president, said Asha workers are collecting detailed information about the health of the residents using a form. “Residents will fill the form based on their current health status. If they are experiencing fever, cough or other symptoms, they have to record it and we will keep a close tab.”

Health minister Veena George said that the containment zones were created in a five-kilometre radius of the homes of the two men who succumbed to the Nipah virus on August 30 and September 11.

The epicentres of the outbreak are the Kallad ward in Maruthonkara panchayat and Mangalad ward in Ayancheri panchayat. The 47-year-old man who died on August 30 was a resident of Maruthonkara, the 40-year-old who passed away on September 11 lived in Ayancheri.

As of Thursday afternoon, Kozhikode District Collector A Geetha had declared 53 wards as containment zones across nine panchayats. This number is likely to increase if more positive cases of the virus are reported in forthcoming days.

The drill is the same as it was during Covid. All key entry and exit routes to and from these wards are barricaded and police personnel are posted . Shops selling essential items and medical shops can operate from 7 am to 5 pm. Those requiring urgent medical care and hospital attention are exempt from the restrictions.

Sajith K, president of the Maruthonkara panchayat where the first victim lived, said ward-level Rapid Response Teams (RRTs) were activated as soon as reports filtered in of suspected Nipah virus infections. Eight of the 14 wards in the panchayat are under lockdown.

“We had these RRTs during the Covid-19 pandemic as well. They consist of the ward member, Asha worker and Kudumbashree workers as well as volunteers. The strength of the RRTs varies depending on the population of the ward. There are 10-12 volunteers per ward,” he said.

Kudumbashree is the state’s self-help programme employing lakhs of women in various sectors and their functioning is considered integral to the development of the local panchayats.

He said that routine announcements through the loudspeaker are made in the wards which have been turned into containment zones to make people aware of the restrictions in place as well as the guidelines they are expected to follow. Several high-risk contacts of the first Nipah victim are in home quarantine here.

“Residents cannot step out unnecessarily. If they need any kind of help with regard to medicines or essential food items, we provide them through our volunteers who are given badges by the panchayat. Schools and other educational institutions are also shut,” said Sajith.

Read here: Genotype I strain of Nipah virus variant likely present in Kerala

“People here are aware of the seriousness of the situation due to past experience. Changaroth panchayat which was the epicentre of the 2018 Nipah outbreak which killed 17 people is very close to us. So, we are familiar with the restrictions of such containment zones. They also know that Nipah is several times more deadly than Covid-19 so they are cooperating,” he added.

Sameera Basheer, a ward member in the panchayat, said 90% of the people are cooperating with the restrictions. “The first victim of Nipah was a resident of my ward. His death on August 30 was seen as natural at that time and later proved to be from Nipah virus. Hundreds of people attended his funeral at the time. They have all been identified and put under quarantine. They are high-risk contacts but they have not developed any symptoms,” she said.

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    Vishnu Varma is Assistant Editor and reports from Kerala for the Hindustan Times. He has 10 years of experience writing for print and digital platforms and has worked at The New York Times, NDTV and The Indian Express in the past. He specialises in longform reportage at the intersections of politics, crime, social commentary and environment.

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