Coronavirus: How Kerala achieved the much acclaimed zero cases

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While active involvement of all the stakeholders who compliment each other especially during the crisis has worked in Kerala’s favour, these are not measures put in place to fight coronavirus but has been a legacy of the State. It’s a success born out of decades-old social revolution and development.

With containment strategies in place even before the first case of novel coronavirus was detected on January 30, Kerala appears to have finally hammered the curve flat. On May 1, for the first time, the State reported zero new cases, and again on two consecutive days — May 3 and May 4.

Zero fresh cases on three days in May appear to be more than a blip. If in April there were early signs of Kerala gaining an upper hand over the virus, its control became clear from the fourth week of April. Since April 22, except on four days, the number of new cases reported has remained either the same or less than the number of recoveries.

The small number of cases reported so far — 499 — demonstrates how excellent its containment efforts have been. What is more remarkable is that 462 of those infected have fully recovered, including an elderly couple aged 93 and 88 years, and there have been just three deaths — a case fatality rate of 0.6% against the national average of 3.3%.

The containment success can be traced back to how Kerala did not wait for directions from the Centre but instead led from the front. When the number of cases increased to 12 on March 10, a day before the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a pandemic, Kerala shut down all educational institutions and entertainment centres, banned large gatherings and appealed to people to avoid visiting religious places.

If it realised the merits of containing virus transmission by quickly tracing all the contacts during the 2018 Nipah outbreak, it executed it to perfection this time. Little wonder that on May 2, ICMR lauded the State for the “unparalleled” containment and testing strategies and referred to it as the “Kerala model”.

But under no circumstances can the State lower its guard as the outbreak can resurge by exploiting the weakest link, as was seen in the sharp spike in Singapore , in dormitories.

Kerala has very good health-care infrastructure in place, down to the primary health-care centres. But what sets Kerala apart from the rest of the States is the manner in which it followed textbook epidemiology protocols to the tee, and beyond, and well before ICMR advocated them, as well as the entire health-care infrastructure working in tandem despite being decentralised.

Political leadership, and close and complete involvement of the government at all levels with the bureaucracy and local community have been a huge advantage. The very different health-seeking behaviour and high literacy too have played a pivotal role in the war against the virus.

While active involvement of all the stakeholders who compliment each other especially during the crisis has worked in Kerala’s favour, these are not measures put in place to fight coronavirus but has been a legacy of the State. It’s a success born out of decades-old social revolution and development.

This is also the reason why other States, even if they emulate the measures adopted by Kerala to fight the virus, may not achieve the same level of success.

Published in The Hindu on May 6, 2020