A new controversy is dogging the Kerala’s campaign against Covid-19 pandemic, which has largely been acknowledged as highly efficient. Health Minister KK Shailaja had even won international praise for leading the state’s fight against the deadly virus, particularly in the early stages of infection.
But as the infection entered the phase of community spread, the so-called Kerala model showed signs of inadequacies, with the result that the daily caseload has crossed the 1,000-mark on most days lately. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who has since taken over the mantle of leading the fight, used harsh words at the inauguration of a chain of family health centres on Monday, saying there has been a let-up in the vigil against the virus by all parties concerned, including the general public.
He blamed the spike in the community spread to this lowering of the guard, in terms of social distancing, personal hygiene and strict enforcement of protocols.
Following the expression of displeasure, he announced at his daily Covid media briefing that the responsibility of implementing the measures at the local level was now being entrusted to the police. Henceforth, operations such as creating route maps of those who test positive as well as tracing of primary and secondary contacts would henceforth be entrusted to the police, instead of health inspectors and other health officials, who were doing this earlier.
The move has invited stiff opposition from the organisations of health workers, including the Indian Medical Association (IMA) and the Kerala Government Medical Officers body, who claimed the decision has demoralised the health workers.
Also, these operations require special expertise, which the police personnel are not capable of. As per the new decision, a special team has been formed in every police station to monitor and keep a track of contacts of positive cases. The doctors claimed it would lead to serious consequences for the state’s fight against Covid-19, which requires greater vigil currently due to the consistent spike in cases.
The IMA asked the government to reverse the decision immediately as these are operations best performed by skilled health workers. The doctors even threatened to go on strike if the move is not rescinded. The arbitrary decision by the CM has also provoked reaction from sociologists and the general public, with activists arguing the decision was ill-advised.
The CM’s decision was probably prompted by the prompt police action in Kasargod when a community spread appeared to be going out of control and was met with large-scale deployment of police personnel, including route marches. The opposition parties have joined the chorus, saying the CM’s decision amounts to expressing no-confidence in the ability of the health department to handle the outbreak. The BJP leaders said the medicine for Covid is not the police lathi and asked the govt to withdraw the decision. Health minister Shailaja has kept a studied silence.