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ERNAKULAM : Jacob Varghese said he was suspicious when a Covid-19 patient in Kerala’s Kottayam, when asked about his whereabouts in the previous days, said nothing about walking into a bar.

Like any good private-eye, Varghese knew that a day in the life of many Kottayam natives hardly ends without downing a drink or two.

So, Varghese ran a few checks with the patient’s acquaintances and figured out that the person did visit a bar. His team immediately traced the people who were there on that day and this prevented the further spread of the deadly virus that has caused panic in several nations.

As life in Indian hinterlands struggles to come to terms with a pandemic on their streets, hundreds of men and women such as Varghese are now probably the country’s most powerful weapon against its spread.

Varghese, a doctor and head of the Kottayam District Medical Office, is part of a team of public sector doctors, young medical personnel, and elected representatives who are now dispatched by their respective state governments to chase down people who were in touch with Covid-19 patients.

Such virus detectives are doing crucial work, especially so as Kerala has the largest tally of Covid-19 patients in the country at 19, including three people who have now fully recovered.

The only thing that is stopping the virus, for which no vaccine has yet been found, from exponential growth is these detectives, said Rajeev Sadanandan, a former top Kerala health department official.

Sadanandan is considered to be the brain behind Kerala’s proactive measures and arrest of the deadly Nipah virus, for which also no vaccine had been found, in 2018.

“It started as an imported virus, only found in people who travelled to affected countries. However, it is now spreading within the community. The only way we can stop such deadly viruses is through history taking, a laborious reconstruction of the previous few days in the life of the patients who test positive, and quarantining people who were in touch with them so that they do not infect others," he said.

This time around, it has taken Kerala hardly any time to form such a group, following the back-to-back attacks of the Nipah virus in the last two years, Sadanandan said.

These detectives have been on the ground for the last few days, working in shifts and keeping the work going round the clock, doing the legwork needed to trace contacts of people who test positive for Covid-19.

However, there are difficulties as people don’t want to give out some information, such as going to a bar, said Varghese. The recollections of the people may also be hazy, he said. The team counters this with common sense and a bit of technology, he said

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