With the Curve Flattening, Kerala Shows the World How to Win the War Against Coronavirus


With the Curve Flattening, Kerala Shows the World How to Win the War Against Coronavirus

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Although the nation has entered a phase of extended lockdown in order to contain and combat the spread of the coronavirus, Kerala’s timely preventive measures to curb the potential outbreak could teach the rest how adequate planning goes a long way. Kerala is the first state in the country to flatten the curve, which means the number of recoveries are more than the number of new infections.

While India’s first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus was reported on January 30 in Thrissur district of Kerala after a student studying in Wuhan University, China had only just returned to the state, Kerala Health Minister KK Shailaja pointed out that a control room to handle the impending crisis had already been set up by January 24 itself. “Before it [the pandemic] hit Kerala, we planned everything. On January 24, the state-level control room was opened in the Kerala directorate of health services. Our team prepared standard operating procedures and protocols. All districts were asked to start a control room,” she explained.

Initially, the situation in the southern state seemed bleak and frightening, as it didn’t take too long for the number of cases to rise steadily, and in no time Kerala was labeled a hotspot for Covid-19. However, two months later, half a dozen states are reporting more infections than Kerala. In fact, the Covid-19 mortality rate in the state is cited to be as low as 0.5 per cent while the all-India average is 3.4 per cent. The mortality rate among the infected worldwide is five per cent, and in some places, it is even more than 10 per cent, Shailaja told ANI. “The discharging rate is also very high in Kerala because of our systematic work.”

According to an Indian Express report, the recovery rate in Kerala is nearly 50 per cent while the all-India average is around 11. Kerala’s speedy recovery could be inferred from its prior experience of handling the Nipah outbreak, a brain-damaging virus that, like the coronavirus, had originated in bats and transferred to humans, in 2018. Over the last four years, the health ministry is also said to have given vigorous training to contain infectious diseases especially dengue fever, chikungunya, and H1N1. “When Covid-19 reached the state,” Shailaja added, “we used the hands-on experience of grassroot-level health workers.” Once the cases began to rapidly increase, utmost priority was given to rigorous contact tracing and mass quarantine. The state went in a lockdown before the rest of the nation.

And now more than two months since the outbreak, Kerala has reported three deaths and 370 confirmed cases of the infection, setting an example not only for India but the world.

Business tycoon Anand Mahindra has lauded the state for its impeccable management. “If the curve stays flat, Kerala will be a shining example for the world in managing Covid,” he tweeted.

Even though Kerala was bound by strict federal protocols and did not engage in aggressive testing, according to B Ekbal, a neurosurgeon and head of an expert panel advising the government on the prevention of the virus, Kerala’s decentralised healthcare system has been a “strong game changer”. “Village councils took upon themselves to enforce and monitor mass quarantine with the consent of the people. The shutdown also helped,” he told the BBC.

As a community-driven state, Kerala has always prioritised public health and education before all. The state health minister launched the “Break The Chain” campaign last month to sensitise the public about the need to practise social distancing and personal hygiene to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

Now even as the curve is flattening, Kerala hasn’t lost focus. It’s preparing for what will unfold once the lockdown is lifted. The state is preparing for an influx of Keralites from other states and counties who will have to be quarantined, tested, and treated if positive for the new coronavirus. Accommodation and other facilities are being readied for more than two lakh people.

In the fight against Covid-19, Kerala has been ahead of the curve, and even as it emerges victorious, it’s not letting its guard down.