Home / News / India /  Kerala could become the country’s most vulnerable covid hotspot, warns Shailaja

Even as Kerala hopes that tough mitigation measures may succeed in flattening the curve by October-end, a failure to do so might make the state "the most vulnerable covid-19 hotspot in India", said state health minister KK Shailaja.

The statement from the minister, who had won many laurels for controlling the covid-19 crisis in the state relatively well, comes in the backdrop of a resurgence in cases in spots where the disease seemed to be under control.

Kerala now has the second-highest rate of increase in covid cases and the third-highest number of active cases - 84,497 as of Sunday evening. The state's total confirmed cases doubled in September and crossed two lakh last week. It is the ninth state in India to have reported over two lakh cases.

“We are still safe. Our mortality rate is 0.4%, one of the lowest mortality rates not only in India but in the world itself. Our positivity rate is 1.2%, lesser than that of several other states but more than the ideal rate at 1%. Only 60% of beds in more than 400 first-line treatment centres are occupied, 40% of ICU beds in government hospitals, and about 10% in private hospitals are filled so far," Shailaja said in an interview.

"But the next few weeks will be crucial for the state," she said. “If the virus spreads rapidly, we will be facing a dual crisis because of our demography. We have a high population density; within a square kilometer, our population density is 760 whereas the national average is 460. Next, our senior citizen population is up to 14% of the total population. Another challenge is the high rate of non-communicable, lifestyle diseases in Kerala. These realities co-exist along with our other, decently high, health indicators," she said.

Kerala did almost everything right during the first wave of the pandemic. But things went south with the perception that the disease had disappeared when it had only retreated, she added.

“There was a huge laxity from the public during Onam festival (in August- September) which resulted in a surge of cases in September. Then there were these large-scale protests by political parties. The danger of protests was not just that it helped in the spread, but it gave a message that gathering in such huge numbers is not a problem. It led to a tendency among the public that it is okay to come out. More than 200 police officers who tried to rein in the protests are also down with covid,"the health minister said.

A governmental expert panel has said the caseload will come down by October end, but it will not happen unless people strictly adhere to the advisories from the health department, said Shailaja.

On 1 October, the Kerala government, stopping short of ordering a total shutdown, invoked Section 144 banning the assembly of more than five people across the state for the entire October. Such tough measures will be continue until cases retreat, she said.

The government is also planning to strengthen the reverse quarantine of senior citizens under the ‘Grand Care’ programme. Every ward will have ‘Grand Care’ committees filled with three-four Anganawadi and Kudumbasree workers, who will go and check up on the senior citizens regularly.

Telemedicine will be strengthened, borders will remain open but those coming from outside will have to report to the state and village-level committees will keep vigil on unauthorised entry of strangers.

The toughest challenge for the state, she said, is with human resource shortage.

"Our planning has saved us a lot, otherwise our hospitals would have been flooded by this huge surge. But we are still facing a huge challenge because of a shortage of human resources. We have hired more than 2000 people so far, most of them were doctors. If the daily caseload increases to the range of 10000, we will need thousands more. Ventilators are another problem, there is a shortage in the market. We are unable to get even 10% of our orders," Shailaja said.

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