Kerala slipping in containing Covid-19

Kerala is slipping in containing the COVID contagion. The extension of lock down in Trivandrum and elsewhere is indication of this.

What went wrong was the failure to enforce social distancing norms including wearing of masks and adoption of precautions relating to opening of malls and markets. The Trivandrum Medical College Hospital was showing signs of fatigue and weaknesses and even contributed marginally to local spread of the disease.

We already know that lock down only help to delay spread of the pandemic. The Kerala government is only repeating the failed model of Modi government by announcing lock down on the previous night. The government even moved an armed battalion to Poonthura to enforce the “triple lock down”. The results were immediately visible with a protest by fishers that threw all the social distancing to winds. Another round of protests could be expected if the government prevents fishers from going to sea for long to earn their livelihood, without giving them any monetary assistance. There will also be shortage of fish in the market.

The most laughable aspect of triple lock down in Trivandrum was the Collector’s order which said that people could call the police for grocery supplies to homes. She could not imagine that the police are ill-equipped for such a job without any system for receiving orders, billing and delivery. Moreover, as force that comes into close contact with people on an everyday basis, they are the riskiest group to undertake home deliveries.

To add to this drama, this week the administration had announced ban on home deliveries. After the COVID-19 crisis arose, many agencies were supplying milk products, provisions and groceries to homes efficiently. This was the safest method for supply of provisions and groceries, especially to senior citizens living alone. The administration stopped this overnight, forcing vulnerable groups to go to stores, groceries and sellers of meat and fish.

It is true that people working with a hypermarket making home deliveries from East Fort and getting their supplies from Tamil Nadu had tested positive for COVID-19. However, people were not widely informed of this. No restrictions were imposed on godowns, markets and hotels functioning in congested areas. It was notable that transmission occurred at a congested shop in Saphalyam complex which itself lack proper air circulation. The Palayam and parts of Chala markets are places where people will have to move in close proximity. Token system at the entrance and one way movements may reduce the problems to some extent, but that has not been tried.

Home deliveries are safer than people visiting large markets and stores. There is scope for godowns to operate from different locations. The only thing is that the government should stipulate minimum space for operations and other protocols for them. Similar is the case with hotels supplying parcels. They should have sufficient space for the kitchen and packing. Space left empty in the absence of diners could be used to expand the space available for cooking and delivery.

Recently, food delivery boys in Trivandrum had contacted COVID-19. Instead of banning deliveries in the light of developments like that, the administration should go for regular health check-up of such vulnerable groups, avoiding the easy way of shutting everything down. The economic impact and human tragedies resulting from shut downs could be large. Lock downs are not something you can use off and on.

Despite claims to the contrary, Kerala’s preparedness for dealing with the spreading diseases seems to be inadequate. This is at the root of current restrictions which destroys the livelihood thousands of people and possibly creates more victims than the toll from COVID-19. As days go by, Opposition to lock downs are bound to increase, besides number of those circumventing or breaking the restrictions.

Lock down has failed in large parts of the country — open up now

Lock down has failed in large parts of the country. As the Central government projected, Covid-19 cases are not going to become zero by the middle of this month.  The cases are multiplying at a fast rate in several States. The exceptions are only some small States like Kerala and Chhattisgarh and the North Eastern States. Most of them, especially Kerala and Chhattisgarh achieved control, by early detection, contact tracing and proper care of the patients.

Almost all States could not shore up supplies and create infrastructure needed during then lock down. Several States could not prevent spiralling up of the cases and deaths. While the Centre claimed that curve could be flattened with the lock down and brought down to zero, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had told the people that lock down could only be a pause. Even a pause could not be achieved in cases of several parts of the country during lock down.

State-wise list of Covid-19 cases as on 12-5-2020 morning. Death rate is highest in West Bengal followed by Gujarat. It is less than one per cent in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Odisha and Bihar. Several States smaller States have zero death rates of which Chhattisgarh is notable.

Now, there is little option than opening up fast. The tragedy of migrant labourers is still unravelling. They as well as the rest of the population are increasingly becoming susceptible. While the lower class is facing hunger, the middle class is suffering from lack of exercise and exposure to sunlight (sunlight fortifies Vitamin D in your body). All this reduces immunity. The economy is collapsing and millions are facing unemployment.

There is confusion of policies at the government level both in dealing with the pandemic and economy. There is also a bias against the poorer and less influential sections of the society. Guidelines on dealing with the Covid-19 are changed frequently because arrangements to deal with the disease in the best way are still not in place. Now, there is only one way—to face the pandemic head on and pray for herd immunity, achievement of slower spreading by means of physical distancing and use of masks and faster development of vaccines or medicines.

The government has now resumed rail services in a limited way. But non-AC coaches may be safer than AC coaches. Similarly a few hours of travel by air will be safer than a few days travel by Rajadhani class train. So, flights should be resumed along with metro services with restrictions. All manufacturing units should be allowed to function with physical distancing norms. All services except cinemas, entertainment programmes, sports events, meetings, religious gatherings and festivals should be permitted.