Interview | Health Minister Shailaja warns against spreading rumours on Coronavirus

Interview | Health Minister Shailaja warns against spreading false rumours on Coronavirus
Health Minister K K Shailaja

Till Saturday night, Kerala was a relieved state after having overcome the Coronavirus threat. However, after five people in Pathanamthitta tested positive for the virus, Kerala has been put on high alert again.

Both the health department and the Kerala government have said that there is no need to worry and at the same time stress on the need for exercising caution.

In an interview with Manorama, Kerala Health Minister K K Shailaja talks about the current situation in the state and warn people against spreading false rumours.

* How did the fresh cases of coronavirus came to light?

After the COVID-19 was reported in Italy, the family from Italy arrived in Kerala. Despite being aware of the severity of the disease, they did not inform the health department. Nor did they keep themselves indoors. Their neighbours sought treatment at the Ranni hospital after coming down with fever. Only when the doctors sought more details, their links to the Italy-returned family were revealed.

In the ensuing probe, it was found that the woman from Italy had sought treatment for fever at a private hospital. She had 102-degree fever. Still, the family refused to go to the hospital. They insisted that they would not get into the ambulance. When they were told that they would not be given medical certificate for their return journey, they said they would come in their own vehicle.

* What about the claims that they were not cautioned at the airport?

That's wrong. All advisory notices are being issued. Don't they know that COVID-19 was reported in Italy and Kerala? They were given forms to give their travel details at the airport. They did not fill these up. All TV channels run warnings that the health department has to be informed of the travel details on arrival in the state. This family came on leave for 19 days. They concealed the travel details as they would have been quarantined at home for 28 days.

* Is there enough surveillance at airports?

The state had asked the Centre to step up surveillance at airports after Coronavirus was confirmed in those who returned to Kerala from China’s Wuhan in February. However, the Aviation Ministry took the steps only on March 1. As soon as the viral infection was confirmed in Kerala, the health personnel started focussing on the airport. However, entry was restricted to the emigration wing. Therefore, the personnel gave instructions from outside.

* What is the current situation?

Now, access has been given to health personnel till emigration wing, but the number of airport staff is very less here. Plus, there are long queues of passengers. So, there is not enough time for proper surveillance. Though a district-wise list of passengers was sought, we were told that it was not possible. The healthcare professional are now taking the list of passengers and categorising them into districts with the help of DTP operators. The government alone cannot do everything to stop the spread of the virus. Each individual has to exercise caution for the welfare of the state.

*A three-year-old child from Italy was tested positive, how did the parents respond?

I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the mother. After filling up the form, she informed that the child had mild fever. She did not allow even the close relatives, who came to receive them at the airport, to come in contact with the child. She fully cooperated when she was told about the need to be hospitalised.

* There are claims that the virus does not spread in regions with high temperatures. Is there any truth in it?

Not sure why Senkumar (former Kerala Police chief) is making such statements. Educated people should avoid making such false claims. Several people tested positive for the viral infection in areas with higher temperature than Kerala. There are also several false messages, claiming to be my statements, circulated on social media. Cases would be filed and action taken against such people.

Is there a scarcity for masks and medicines? There are also complaints that high prices are being levied?

Currently, there is no shortage of medicines or other articles. As China is in a crisis situation, there is a shortage of raw materials. The Drugs Controller has been directed to carry out extensive raids to prevent the sale at higher rates.

* Is it not possible to give clearance certificates to those travelling abroad?

No, it is not possible to give certificates, stating that people are not infected by the Coronavirus. It would take 14 days for the disease to be confirmed after exposure to the viral infection. If tests are done during this period, the presence of virus cannot be confirmed. Only after reaching their destination with the certificates, the symptoms will appear.