COVID-19: 24 test positive but Pinarayi sets to rest fears around Tablighi meet

24 people test positive for COVID-19 in Kerala, total number rises to 265
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Thiruvananthapuram: The coronavirus continues its wave-like progression in Kerala. After a dip in positive numbers on March 31, the first day of April has seen an uncomfortable rise in confirmed cases; from seven the previous day, the confirmed cases clocked 24 on Wednesday.

This takes the total number of confirmed cases in Kerala to 265. The number of active cases, taking out the two deaths and the 26 recovered, is 237.

Yet again, Kasaragod topped the list with 12 of the 24 new cases, and this pushes the active cases in Kasaragod to 120. Ernakulam had three new cases. And two each were reported from Thiruvananthapuram, Thrissur, Malappuram and Kannur. There was one in Palakkad.

No community transmission

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who gave out the numbers during his customary sunset briefing on Wednesday, made it clear that there was no evidence of community transmission in Kerala, even in Kasaragod.

He said of the 24 new cases, nine had come from foreign countries. The remaining 15 were immediate contacts. "We have identified their sources. If we look at the immediate contacts, they are mostly females," the chief minister said, clearly hinting that they had got the infection from their husbands or fathers who had returned from outside.

Pinarayi said 198 of the 265 positive cases, nearly 75 per cent of the positive cases recorded so far in Kerala, have come from outside; among the 198 are seven foreigners. The remaining 67 are immediate contacts, especially close relatives like wives, children and parents.

The health authorities are yet to find a positive case outside the immediate or primary contacts. Meaning, the primary contacts, because they were quickly identified and quarantined, were not given a chance to pass on the virus outside the family. This is also a sign of the effectiveness of the lockdown in Kerala.

Worry areas

However, there have been instances, like in Kasaragod and Palakkad and Pathanamthitta, where the infected had ignored isolation norms and had let themselves loose in the society. Even in these cases, health department officials say the primary contacts have more or less been identified.

At the moment, a vague area in Kerala would be Pothencode in Thiruvananthauram, where a 68-year-old COVID-19 patient died. The whole Pothencode panchayat has been shut down for three weeks to somehow smother the virus from getting out of the area.

Health authorities and the district administration are still not sure how the deceased, Abdul Azeez, who had no travel history, had got seeded.

Status report by end of week

It is now said a better picture would emerge by the end of this week. The 14-day quarantine period of those who had returned from foreign countries will be over this week. International flights were banned from March 22. So the last of the people returning from outside had landed in India in the early hours of March 22.

By the end of this week they would have either shown the symptoms or not. The throat and buccal swabs of those who had shown symptoms would have already been taken, and the last of their results too would be published by then.

Then, there are their primary contacts, especially close relatives and friends who had come into contact with those flying in from outside. A good majority of them had also been asked to go on a self-imposed quarantine even before the 21-day lockdown was declared on March 25. The remaining samples of those among them who had shown symptoms are also expected to arrive by the end of this week.

At the moment there is uncertainty about the spread, the number of confirmed cases are showing an on-off trend. But once all the results of those who had returned from outside and their primary contacts are out, there could be some clarity on the spread of the virus in Kerala.

China-like intervention in Kasaragod

But the situation in Kasaragod remains slightly more complicated because many who had tested positive in the district were found to be highly active during the incubation period of the virus.

The district administrations, even though they are loathe to admit it, are still in the process of identifying primary contacts. It could also be an exercise in abundant caution. If infected primary contacts are still hidden, and that too in a deceptively healthy state, there is a high chance of secondary infection.

Anticipating a surge in cases, Kerala government is attempting to a China in Kasaragod. A state-of-the-art COVID-19 Care Centre will come up in Kasaragod in ten days, complete with modern equipments, isolation wards and 20 ICU units. Already Rs 7 crore has been sanctioned for the first phase of the project during which the ground, first and second floors would be readied in 10 days.

At the moment, 110 COVID-19 patients are admitted in various hospitals in Kasaragod.

Communal divide in the name of Tablighi Jamaat

Into this uncertainty has now fallen the Tablighi Jamaat participants. Over 300 from Kerala had reportedly participated in the mass gathering at the headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat at Nizamuddin in Delhi, and half of them have returned. It is still not clear whether their primary contacts have been adequately warned, and quarantined.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, but, said there was nothing to worry.

"60 people who had returned from Tabligh-e-Jamaat are under observation in Kerala. There is no need for fears on this count," the chief minister said.

Pinarayi also hinted it was improper to blame Tablighi participants. "Just imagine the situation in our state before the lockdown. Many people had taken part in weddings, festivals and all sorts of religious gatherings," he said.

The chief minister was indirectly saying that Keralites too were taking part in mass gatherings while Tablighi Jamaat was taking place at Nizamuddin in Delhi on March 13. In other words, if at all anyone is trying to blame Tablighi participants, it is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. The lockdown was declared only on March 25.

Pinarayi said the social media was being misused to put all the blame squarely on those who had attended the Tablighi meet. "We should never forget how people of all religions had wholeheartedly responded to the call to temporarily stop all religious gatherings," the chief minister said.

He was essentially stating that no community in Kerala had shown any reluctance to enforce social distancing norms.

However, Pinarayi did not allow himself to be drawn into Governor Arif Muhammad Khan's statement that Tablighi leaders had exhorted people not to take the Centre's calls for social distancing seriously and that they had considered it a conspiracy to shut down mosques.

"The meeting did not take place in Kerala. Let those concerned make things clear," Pinarayi evaded a poser about the Governor's comment.

1.64 lakh under observation

On Wednesday, 1,64,130 people are under surveillance in Kerala, up from 1,63,129 yesterday. Of this, 1,63,508 or more than 99 per cent are quarantined in homes. The remaining 622 are isolated in hospitals. Today alone, 123 were admitted to hospitals.

Till now, 7,965 samples were sent for testing and 7,256 of these tested negative.

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