The World Health Organisation on Wednesday declared the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak a pandemic. This is the worst health crisis the world has witnessed in a century after the Spanish Flu of 1918 that wiped out about 100 million people from the surface.
A zoonotic disease, Covid-19, is known to have its origins in one of China’s wet markets in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak. In about three months since the first case had reported, the viral infectionhas spread trfo 114 countries, affected over 135,000 people, and killed 4,990 (as on Friday morning) among them.
The spike in the number of reported cases and deaths and no signs of containment of the infection have rung alarm bells, casting a shadow of gloom over the globe.
Italy, one of the world’s ten biggest economies, is in a complete lockdown with its entire population of 60 million people restricted to their homes. The condition is no different in other parts of the world with schools and offices shut, public gatherings abandoned and governments requesting people for social distancing or isolation.
The effects of the pandemic on the world have been devastating. Trade markets have collapsed, productions stalled and millions of people cut off from their regular lives.
Meantime, Kerala has set out a different model for the entire world. In the face of a global health emergency, the Communist government in the state has given much thrust to cultivating hope among the people.
Demonstrating confidence and emanating hope in the time of distress is no small feat, when the world and the biggest economies, with the best infrastructure, health and research systems, have failed. The present Kerala government led by Chief Minister PinarayiVijayan and Health Minister K. K. Shailaja was the one to lead and contain the Nipah outbreak in 2018. With exemplary crisis management skills and efficient bureaucratic and health systems, the duo has shown the world a Kerala model of fighting out challenges. Regular updates on the present outbreak from government sources have helped in educating and boosting the morale of the people.
Apart from this, the announcement of ensuring distribution of food to all in quarantine and isolation has come to the astonishment of many. Measures have also been taken to distribute food for children at their homes albeit the Agnanwadis (children care centre) are closed. This is surprising about any government fighting an unbridled viral outbreak debilitating the state of affairs. The decision to increase the bandwidth strength of internet connection for better internet experience during the shutdown period is unimaginative for any other government in other parts of the country fighting the outbreak.
There is no gainsaying that the Kerala government has put up its best efforts to control the epidemic. Kerala was also the first state in the country to start screenings in airports to identify foreign carriers. The health department, district administration and all government machinery are deployed in full swing to abate the condition. And this has won wide appreciation even from abroad.
But it would be overconfidence to say that the measures are intact. Praises from various quarters shouldn’t blind the leadership failing to address the loopholes in the present screening and tracing system.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that a family from Italy who escaped from screenings at the airport was later found tested positive for coronavirus. This has resulted in quarantining of more than 3,000 people in the state. Though K. K. Shailaja has explained in the Legislative Assembly that the family has faulted by undisclosing their travel details, the present mayhem could have been avoided if the system was intact. Anyhow, such incidents must be avoided in the future at any cost.
Don’t shoot yourself in the foot
Howsoever, albeit the appropriate intervention of the government, it is doubted whether Kerala natives have fully grasped the reality of how volatile is the situation. The government has indeed been successful so far. But it is too early to say that the situation would be within control. A mass outbreak may upend the entire system.
For instance, it was on a single day South Korea witnessed 231 positive cases pushing the nation to an unprecedented crisis. Kerala, home to hundreds of thousands of expatriates and a haven for migrant labourers from various parts of India, is always at risk.
The present system ensures screening in airports but what about people coming from other parts of the country through other means of transport. Is the system fully equipped to handle the crisis is a perturbing question. Hence, the government must be fully equipped and ensure that leakages in the system are fixed. Kerala must pay an extra vigil to avoid a calamity. Any deviation might be shooting in one’s foot.
Jestin Abraham is a freelace journalist who writes on politics, media and current affairs