Fighting Covid-19: The Kerala Model
S Ramachandran Pillai
KERALA’s fight against the deadly Covid-19 pandemic has been multi-pronged. Firstly, the deadly virus itself, second an opposition that has been busy working overtime to derail the efforts of the state government by leading a malicious campaign to malign the reputation of the state and the government, and then a union government with a discriminatory attitude.
But, what prevailed over the adversaries are a determined political leadership, concrete planning, and implementation of plans across all levels. Indeed, Kerala is a role model in Covid-19 prevention.
The whole strategy of fighting Covid-19 in Kerala is based on three components: controlling the spread of Covid-19, giving relief and help to all affected people, and medium and long-term plans for the revival of the economy and the welfare of the people.
The unique feature of the strategy of Kerala is that it aimed at the well-being of the entire society based on the interest of the common people who constitute the overwhelming majority.
The first and foremost task has been to control the spread of Covid-19. The state has been ahead of other Indian states and many countries in the developed world right from the beginning and on every step thereafter.
India’s first case of coronavirus infection was detected in Kerala on January 30, 2020 in a student who had returned from Wuhan, China. But, the work to prevent the spread of the virus started much earlier in Kerala. In fact even before the WHO declared it as a global health emergency, the state had started the groundwork to halt, if not reduce the impact of the virus.
A state-level control cell was set up on January 24 itself. A state-level rapid response team was constituted and it met immediately and prepared the public health emergency plan for the detection and control of Covid-19 infection. The recommendations of the WHO on the spread of the disease and its control were sent to all districts for immediate implementation.
With no vaccine or medicine available for preventing or treating Covid-19, the effort has been to contain the spread of infections within the existing public health infrastructure. As a part of this, 1,31,606 beds have been arranged for Covid-19 patients in 1,296 government hospitals and 866 private hospitals. Besides, 2,378 ventilators have also been set up in both government and private hospitals. In case if the infection is widespread, buildings for emergency purposes have also been identified by different departments of the government. Isolation wards have been set up to monitor and treat patients in all government medical colleges, general hospitals, and major private hospitals in the state.
Recognising the need for widespread public awareness to control infection, a powerful campaign on cleaning hands using soaps and sanitizers named ‘Break the Chain’ was launched, which gained massive acceptance. Use of mask became widespread and was made mandatory when going out to any public place or when contacting people.
Covid-19 test facilities have been set up in 16 locations. Walk-in kiosks for safe and speedy sample collections have been introduced. Extensive ambulance services have been introduced to bring patients to hospitals and to transport the cured ones back home. A state-wide call centre called ‘Disha’ (direction) was launched to help the public. So far, more than one lakh telephone calls have been handled by Disha. A monitoring mechanism has also been set up for people who are in quarantine.
Another innovative step the government undertook was to address the issues faced by the public on the personal front. The spread of a pandemic like Covid-19, which the whole world has been struggling to contain, has exposed psychological problems in different persons. The district mental health programme has provided services to address the health and psychological problems of persons who have been kept under isolation or quarantine. To provide socio-psychological support, 1,069 mental health workers have been deployed in districts. Tele-counselling is provided to alleviate the stress of those working in corona care also. So far the socio-psychological support team has made 6,80,263 tele counselling calls.
Though the Covid-19 preventive work was initiated by the health department, it was joined by all other departments. The coordinated effort of various departments to control Covid-19 has been commendable. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan led the teams of all departments involved in the prevention of Covid-19 and relief work. Every evening the CM holds a review meeting of all departments – particularly health and revenue. The CM is directly addressing the people every day providing information about the spread of infection, the steps taken to control it, and provide relief and assistance, the different issues of various sections of people brought to his notice and the steps the government intends to take on all such matters etc.
The multi-pronged approach of the Kerala government in its fight against Covid-19 yielded better results compared to other states and many countries in the world. A total of 630 people tested positive and 496 were cured, and 130 are under treatment. The world average of Covid-19 death is ___, in India it is 3.16 per cent and is in only 0.51 per cent in Kerala. The Kerala government conducted the highest number of tests per population. At a time when the most advanced nations were not ready to treat the old, the state has seen a 93 year-old and an 88 year-old having cured and sent home from the hospital. The eight foreigners where were cured of Covid-19 here in Kerala have openly lauded the efficiency of the medical set up. These are only some examples.
MEASURES TO ALLEVIATE PROBLEMS
The second important initiative by the Kerala government in fighting Covid-19 has been the measures taken to alleviate the difficulties faced by different sections of people due to the lockdown and other measures taken to control the spread of Covid-19. The state government has launched a Rs 20,000 crore package to provide relief, assistance and help to all who have lost jobs and livelihood. The state government took steps to provide social security pension in advance to 54 lakh beneficiaries amounting to Rs 4,709 crore. The welfare boards gave Rs1,000 each to 73 lakh workers.
Below poverty line card holders got an additional 35 kg of rice free for a month. Other sections of card holders including above the poverty line and those holding non-priority cards got 15 kg rice free. A total of 87.59 lakh kits containing essential items were distributed free of charge to all cardholders – both BPL and APL. This incurred an expenditure of Rs 879 crore.
Another aspect was the determination of the government that not a single person starved in the state due to Covid-19. Community kitchens were set up to provide food for the sick, senior citizens, and the needy. Hence, 1,137 community kitchens were set up in 1,034 panchayaths and municipalities and corporations. The community kitchens fed 1,33,882 persons as on April 30 and of these 1,07,128 were given free meals while the others for a charge of Rs 20 for a packet.
Another important issue confronted was related to the guest workers in Kerala. There were about three lakh guest workers in Kerala from different states. The government took steps to provide them with food and shelter. Free food and shelter was provided to 3,52,515 guest workers by the government in 19,902 camps across Kerala. Special identification cards have been supplied to them by the home department. The state government is implementing a plan to send them to their respective states in special trains.
The state government is also taking steps to bring back non-resident Keralites from both within the country and abroad. About four lakh expatriates have registered for returning to Kerala. The government is also taking steps to bring back Keralites who are trapped in other states. For this 1.5 lakh Keralites have already registered under this programme.
Considering that the large number of Keralites would come from overseas and other states, the Kerala government had made attempts to ensure that the steps to bring them back are linked to Covid-19 preventive measures. Plans are made to check them at receiving points, to send the infected to the hospital for treatment, and others to quarantine either in their homes or other places earmarked by the government and continuously monitor them.
The third component of fighting Covid-19 is the immediate, short-term and long-term measures for revival of the economy and welfare of the people. The Covid-19 pandemic and measures taken to control such as a complete lockdown and other measures have put an abrupt and almost total halt of the production of goods and services. The halt to production during the Covid-19 is not location specific or scale specific but is from top to bottom and across all locations. There is uncertainty about how long it will take to achieve previous levels of production. The resumption of production is also interconnected with national and international supply and distribution channels. The loss during the period of total lockdown with negligible production of goods and services except in a few selected sectors like government, banking, communication is estimated to be 80 per cent of the monthly value addition. The uncertain situation may continue for more months. Another factor is that a considerable percentage of the income in Kerala are from remittances from the non-resident Keralites working in other states and abroad. Many of them have lost their jobs due to Covid-19 and are coming back to Kerala. These will have a serious adverse impact on the economy in Kerala. The return of the guest workers from Kerala to their native states will cause new difficulties in the form of shortages in many areas. All these have to be immediately addressed.
Considering the impact of the spread of Covid-19 and the preventive measures on the economy of Kerala, the state government is making plans to revive sectors such as agriculture and allied sectors, industries and service sector. More than half of the income in agriculture is from cash crops such as rubber, pepper, cardamom, nutmeg, ginger, coffee, tea etc. The prices of all these crops are decided in the international market. The prices are falling in the world market and at present, there are no buyers. The impact of Covid-19 in the agricultural sector of Kerala is much more than the impact on all other sectors.
Kerala government is making plans to revive the economy to the previous levels of production and for expansion of all sectors of production. ‘Subhiksha Kerala’ is a plan for increasing productivity and production in agriculture. The government is preparing a plan for reviving industries and service sectors.
DISCRIMINATORY ATTITUDE OF
The discriminatory attitude of the central government towards Kerala state is causing great difficulties in its fight against Covid-19. Kerala is experiencing a serious financial crisis due to the harsh discriminatory approach by the BJP-led central government. There is constant delay on the part of the central government in the payment of GST compensation to the state, MNREGS arrears, flood compensation etc. The Modi government seems determined to thwart the Kerala government’s efforts to fight Covid-19 by strangulating our finances.
The entire Party has been active in controlling the spread of Covid-19 and distribution of relief materials. The Party actively participated in the awareness campaigns and preventative work among the people. Party members have been fully involved in procuring and distributing food and other necessities to the needy. Party units also made and distributed masks, sanitizers to the common people and PPE kits for health workers.