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  • Benjamin John

The Covid saga of Kerala and how safe is to Travel to Kerala

There are numerous reasons for us to be proud Malayalees and the reasons are getting far more interesting than earlier. To a great extent we have been able to fight the Covid war, and we should be thankful to a whole lot of people, from medical professionals, police officers, our ministers who have been relentlessly part of the war, who have been planning and implementing strategies to keep 35 million of us safe.


Kerala was one among the very first states in India to have Covid 19 positive cases. There were three medical students who returned from Wuhan, China in January and we were so cautious in handling the situation. They were quarantined immediately when they arrived and that meant that we had ceased any further spread and we all thought we were safe, but we were not aware that it was just the first round. India was a country that was affected in the last stages of community spread of covid 19. The second wave was from a family who had returned from Italy, but they went unnoticed and from there on we had many positive cases, mostly in people who had returned home from abroad, of which most of them from Dubai.


Kerala's Medical System


Kerala has 14 districts and each of them have major government run medical colleges and hospitals. Probably one district might opt out for not having its own medical college. It was through these medical colleges, that the Govt machinery controlled the entire Covid 10 mission and it was entirely free. Apart from that we have a good network of primary health centres and another set of govt hospitals where ample infrastructure was available to quarantine. Wide scale testing and use of testing kits developed in India was a boon.


Shailaja teacher our pride


Shailaja teacher is our Minister of Health and social welfare for the state of Kerala. She was a high school science teacher, after retirement in 2004, she entered active politics and was a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). In Kerala, for teachers, we include the word teacher after their name, this lives with them even after retirement. That is how Shailaja teacher, the name came in to existence.



I don't ever remember Kerala being known for the epicentre of any virus or epidemic. But in 2018, we did have something serious, it was called the Nipah virus spread in North Kerala, which originated in the district of Kozhikode. While Covid 19 relatively does not have a high death toll. Nipah was a killer, supposed to have come from bats to humans, Nipah was a real threat and Shailaja teacher and team proved to be great leaders when it comes to crises. She was right there in the middle of the crises and I believe that gave her a lot of knowledge and experience as to how Covid has to be dealt with. While Nipah was entirely eradicated in a few months, we almost had Covid 19 under control in Kerala. However as far as the whole world is not safe from Covid, Kerala is no different. So we have come to a conclusion that we might not be able to eradicate Covid 19 all of a sudden, but all we need to do is to be cautious and careful about how we live and move around along with the Virus. Things are not going to be the same as earlier.


There were many articles and news that came up in various international media about how Kerala tackled this pandemic. Doctors from Kerala even run a hospital in Mumbai which is a hotspot in India.


How did literacy and awareness become a boon for us


In all contexts, the investment that Kerala had put in for Education has really paid off well. Education is one of the greatest assets Kerala has developed over time. We have been the most literate state in India for over decades. From Primary schools to centres of higher education to professional colleges, the leaders of Kerala had the wisdom not to underestimate the value of education. Missionaries who were here before Independent India as well as the initiatives of various princely states to open schools and colleges have contributed generously towards having a population that could read, learn and understand about things around.



Campaigns like that of "Break the Chain" got wide scale popularity, which has really contributed in controlling the pandemic. The police department, the doctors, the government machinery, everything was put into full use for wide scale awareness programmes about how to keep the virus from community spread.


Arrival of Expats


While tourism contributes to the 10% revenue for the state, we have the primary revenue coming from the large expat community that works mostly in the middle east. Kerala is one of the largest exporters of medical personnel, we have a large nurses community working across the world, a considerable number of teachers work in Africa and many other developing countries. So it was our responsibility to bring them back, as the economies went down and many of them lost their Jobs. More Keralites died in the other countries than in Kerala because of Covid 19 pandemic. At tone point, Kerala had just 4 people dead and the active cases were just below 50, and we are 35 million of us in the state.




But when the expats arrived, it was a different situation altogether. We had to find quarantine solutions, both home quarantine and institutional quarantine based on the severity of the cases. It was declared that anyone who enters Kerala has to undergo 14 days of quarantine, I think it worked well. But when we went into the testing phase for Keralites who arrived home, the number start to rising up. But they were strictly put under quarantine which prevented community spread of the virus. So even though the covid 19 cases are increasing, it is very well under control and it is not a symptom of community spread. Wide scale testing has helped in identifying positive cases and keep them in isolation.



New measures and innovation


Break the chain campaign did get wide popularity, even though we went on a full lockdown, banks, and other essential supply networks were not closed. Social distancing was the norm of the day, masks were mandatory. There were wash basins and soaps provided at many public places. Banks and other busy places allowed entry only after checking the temperature, a mask, and washed hands, and this was mandatory. Swab collection kiosks and plasma therapy (a treatment protocol where the antibodies from the blood of cured patients are transfused into the patient for better recovery) were first introduced in Kerala. Wise usage of social media for awareness campaigns by both health department and the police department pivotal for the fight against Covid 19



How safe is Kerala for a holiday


Compared to many other states in India, Kerala is a safe place to travel once the pandemic is globally under control. Business has resumed with restrictions and how things after covid 19 is going to be different. Scanning for body temperature, setting up little wash basis stations are common at most institutions. And it is a No entry without masks.


Traveling is Kerala during covid 19 is going to be with a set of guidelines, entry to hotels would be after a temperature check, washing of hands would be a point to check, a mask is going to be mandatory for public places. The Hotels will have a series of new standard operating procedures which are formed with much discussion, as to how comfortable it is going to be for the guests.. It is about sanitising the entire premises and how effective to get things done without putting anyone at stake, both for the employees as well as the guests.


Travel in cars would be with a separated cabin for the driver and the guest. A car would carry only 4 passengers including the driver. Larger vehicles will have a protocol to keep distance from each other. Even though we have sanitisers in our cars, now they are going to be mandatory things, including soap solutions, masks and gloves provided by us. Though it looks a bit wired initially, these are certain important practices which we should follow, both for the safety of our guests as well as others.


Though we have been having a tough time since the early 2018 starting from the Nipah spread, followed by two seasons of heavy monsoon and flood. We felt like God was a bit angry with us, but the way things are moving ahead is filled with hope. Though we had a tough time, we had the courage and ability to overcome all of them.



Now that we are looking forward to the homecoming of more expats, they must be able to take advantage of our medical system and be comfortable and safe at home. Positive Covid cases might go up with more expat arrivals, but they are quarantined which keeps away the possibility of community spreading. This will also pass by and once all of this is over, we are looking forward for a day when all aspects are under control and the airlines start operating so that we could let the world know that we are open to receive guests.

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