COVID-19: Why today's results will be crucial for Kerala

COVID-19: Why today's results will be crucial for Kerala
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Today would perhaps offer the best indicator yet of how the virus would make its presence felt in Kerala.

The results of the largest chunk of samples, 77 of the high-risk ones, sent from Kasaragod would be reported on Wednesday. If the number of positive cases are limited to below five, public health officials say, then Kerala is on the way to a quick recovery.

“This is a very crucial day for us,” said district collector D Sajith Babu said. “We are waiting for the results of the 77 swabs taken from here,” he said.

Kasaragod already has the highest number of infected people, 45. One of them, a medical student from Wuhan, had recovered. Active cases, therefore, are 44. Kasaragod clearly is the most vulnerable district in the state. Chief Minister Pinarayi, too, had said Kasaragod was a matter of great concern.

Since March 20, the largest number of positive cases in Kerala were reported from Kasaragod. On March 20, the number was six; Ernakulam, too, had six that day. On March 21, half of the positive cases in Kerala, six, were from Kasaragod.

On March 22, there were just five but still it was the largest in Kerala. March 23 saw a disturbing spurt. The district accounted for 19 of the 28 cases reported positive in Kerala. On March 24, while the rest of the districts recorded a maximum of only two, Kasaragod had six.

Yet, despite the accelerating numbers, no one believes that Kasaragod had slipped into the third stage, the dangerous period of community transmission. Forty two of the 45 positive cases in Kasaragod had come to the district directly from foreign countries, most of them from Gulf --- including Qatar and Dubai. Only three had till now contracted the virus from these people who flew into the state with the virus.

Almost all those who had flown in from outside have been properly quarantined, except one.

This patient, who had now been tested positive, had travelled to three districts – Kozhikode, Kannur and Kasaragod.

He was where the crowds were: marriages, deaths, football matches, jewellery shops, and as if all these were not enough, he also had hosted mass gatherings at his house.

A large chunk of the 77 swabs whose results are expected soon are supposedly this man's primary and secondary contacts.

However, Kasaragod had already intensified quarantine measures, more than in any other districts. It is no more house quarantine but room quarantine. Those who cannot follow the room quarantine system, under which the suspected person has to live in a single room with no contacts outside of the room, will be shifted to government-run isolation facilities.

Even those who had tested negative are not let out all of a sudden. They, too, will have to undergo room quarantine, and close surveillance, for another 14 days. If any symptoms crop up in between, their swabs would be sent for testing once again.

To ease pressure on the district health machinery, it has also been decided to test only those patients who are referred to the district health authorities by the concerned primary health centres.

With cases on the rise, the government hospitals in the district is witnessing a huge rush of people demanding that their swabs, too, be sent for testing.

This was causing undue hassles for the health workers, and the huge crowds in hospitals were also the right ambiance for virus propagation.

So now, anyone who wants to be tested should first approach their nearest primary health centre. Only if the PHC doctor feels the need of a test will the patient will be referred to the higher centre.

Major decisions were also taken during an audio conference the Chief Minister held with the five Kasaragod MLAs – M C Kamaruddin, N A Nellikunnu, K Kunhiraman, E Chandrasekahran and M Rajagopalan -- on March 24. The MLAs have been tasked with implementing the decisions.

One, a person quarantined at home should be given a separate bath-attached room. Food and other assistance should be provided by only one person in the house. There should also be adequate stock of masks and sanitisers at the house. If there are no such facilities in the house, then the person will have to be shifted to an isolation facility.

Two, MLAs should hold a meeting with panchayat presidents under their remit and hold discussions about how to go about implementing prevention protocols in the area.

Three, ward-level committees should be asked to identify houses of marginalised groups within their areas, especially the old, differently-abled and daily wagers who would be highly vulnerable in the lockdown, and ensure that they get food and medical supplies without fail.

Four, homeless people who normally sleep in the open, in bus stands or on the roadside or in front of shop windows, should be brought under single shelter where food will also be provided. The MLAs, in consultation with local body leaders, should identify the people and also the shelters where they could be lodged during the lockdown.

Five, MLAs have also been asked to find buildings -- schools or auditoriums -- where isolation wards could be set up.

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