Thiruvananthapuram: It was through Kerala that coronavirus first entered India. The infection was brought by a girl medical student from Wuhan in China, where the pandemic is believed to have originated. Armed with the experience of successfully fighting the deadly Nipah virus, Kerala quickly put in place a containment strategy that has brought the state global recognition.
Even before the national lockdown was declared by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Kerala government clamped down a near-lockdown state-wide and all public functions, including religious gatherings, were banned and an elaborate system was introduced for contact tracing in reported cases and containment regime.
But one year later, despite the initial euphoria and success, the state has faltered along the way and even had the dubious distinction of reporting the highest daily caseloads for a number of days running. There were even allegations that the state health authorities had more achievements in terms of public relations rather than real success on the ground.
But amidst all the claims and counter-claims the fact remains that at no point of the epidemic was the public health system overwhelmed by patient overflow and mortality rate. Delaying the peak meant that the disease transmission would be slow and prolonged in the community. This also meant that it would take longer for the state to achieve the herd immunity.
Critics found a number of shortcomings in the state’s approach, including messing up with surveillance and data management. There was clear reluctance from the authorities to release primary database from districts for data analysis. It is argued that such micro-level data could have given valuable pointers on identifying case clusters for effective surveillance and testing.
Two major festivals, such as Onam and Christmas, as well as a keenly contested local body election, led to a clear lowering of guard by people, which led to an inevitable spike in the infection rate in the days to come.
It appeared as though the state’s celebrated healthcare model was tending to fail at the most critical time, when things should have worked with clock-like precision.
There were even tales of inhuman and callous behaviour by hospital staff towards Covid patients, bringing shame to the state, with Union health minister Harsh Vardhan going to the extent of telling other states to learn from Kerala’s mistakes.
In one of the most bizarre incidents, a senior citizen undergoing treatment at the Government Medical College Hospital here was found with maggots wriggling on the infected wound on his head. When his relatives discovered his plight, they raised an alarm and complained to the health minister and the state human rights commission.
There have been of cases of bodies getting mixed up and handed over to the wrong families. In one instance, the body of a Covid patient was dumped in the mortuary for about two weeks, without informing his family about the death.
In another case, a man was seen handing over food meant for his father, who had already been dead for some days, had shocked the collective conscience of the state. The hospital staff kept receiving the food packets, which they promised to pass on to the patient. Later the son discovered to his horror that his father had already died.
As the circle turns its full course, the state is fast recovering some lost ground, managing to reduce the daily caseload to more respectable levels. But there is another major uncertainty lying ahead in the form of assembly elections, which will once again see people giving scant respect to social distancing norms and other Covid protocols.