Coronavirus: Fears of community transmission loom as confirmed cases in Kerala rise to 286

Coronavirus: Fears of community transmission loom as confirmed cases in Kerala rise to 286
Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan

There was only a marginal dip in positive cases in Kerala on Thursday. If the previous day had 24 cases, Thursday saw 21 fresh COVID-19 cases, taking the total number of confirmed cases in Kerala to 286. However, with two people dead and 28 having recovered till now, active COVID-19 patients are 256.

Thursday also saw two people who had returned from the Tablighi Jamaat turning positive; one a Kollam native and the other based in Thrissur. They are also the first positive cases from the Nizamuddin cluster to test positive for COVID-19 in Kerala.

Though there is no explosion of positive cases in Kerala, there is definitely a swell in positive cases every five days. If in the five days since March 19, it was 68, the five days beginning March 24 saw 87 cases. In the last five days, the number has burgeoned to 104.

Danger zone Kasaragod

For the third consecutive day, Kasaragod tops the number of positive cases. Of the 21 new cases, 8 were from Kasaragod, taking the total number of confirmed cases in Kasaragod to 129.

This untamed surge in numbers is also affecting Kerala's relationship with neighbouring Karnataka. While Kerala wants Karnataka to open its borders to allow patients in north Kasaragod to visit hospitals in Mangaluru, Karnataka government is dead against opening the borders fearing people from Kasaragod could stoke an explosion of new cases in the southern parts of the state.

Kannur is close behind with 47. The positive cases in Thiruvananthapuram, under which comes Pothencode, has in the week week shown a surge to 13, now the fourth most affected district after Kasaragod, Kannur, and Ernakulam (24).

After recording no new cases for two days, five in Idukki have turned positive on Friday. Kollam has two, and Thiruvananthapuram, Pathanamthitta, Thrissur, Malappuram, Kozhikode and Kannur have recorded one each.

Three mystery patients and growing fears of 3rd stage infection

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan once again maintained that there was no community spread in Kerala. Of the 286 affected, 207 were people who had come from outside (200 Malayalis and seven foreigners). He said 76 were immediate contacts, or people who got the infection from those who had returned from outside. He was trying to assure the state that the virus had travelled only a short distance, from foreign returnees to their immediate contacts.

But the numbers account for only 283 of the confirmed patients. What about the remaining three? How these three patients got seeded with the novel coronavirus still remains a nightmarish mystery. The administration has still not been able to trace the origin of infection of three positive patients: a health worker in Ernakulam, a labour leader in Idukki (who has now recovered) and Abdul Azeez of Pothencode who died on March 31.

Health officials on the condition of anonymity said the presence of three mystery cases throws up the possibility of low-key community transmission in Kerala. “Good thing is the lockdown must have put things under control, and the sources of the infection of these three patients might have hopefully come under the surveillance net. But what if they are still in the community, outside the net of close surveillance,” a top health official said.

Tablighi imponderables

Now, there are the Tablighi participants also to contend with. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said on Thursday that 157 had returned to Kerala from the Tablighi Jamaat held at Nizamuddin in Delhi. “They belong to all the districts in Kerala,” Pinarayi Vijayan said. “Their details have been collected and they are under strict observation in hospitals or their own houses,” the chief minister said. He said some of the Malayali participants were still in Delhi. There were reports that 310 people from Kerala had taken part in the Tablighi Jamaat.

Health officials say that contact tracing of Tablighi participants was virtually impossible. “At the most their close contacts, family members, relatives and friends, can be quarantined. But they would have returned to the state in packed trains. How are we going to find the people who shared the same coaches? We can give out the names of trains and dates and can do nothing more than wait for people to respond,” a health official said.

Non-extension of lockdown

The chief minister also gave indications that the lockdown period would not be extended in this form after April 14. He revealed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during a video conference he held with chief ministers on Thursday, had asked the states to recommend ways to lift the lockdown in a controlled manner.

“The prime minister has asked states to appoint an expert committee to make the recommendations. We will set in motion the steps to appoint the committee tomorrow itself,” Pinarayi Vijayan said.

It looks like social distancing norms would have to be strictly adhered to even after the lockdown period. “The prime minister told us that social distancing had to be compulsorily followed even after the lockdown,” Pinarayi said. The Centre had even earlier said that there were no plans to extend the lockdown period.

1.66 lakh under observation

On Thursday, 1,65,934 persons were under observation in Kerala, up from 1,64,130 the previous day. Of this, 1,65,291 or 99 per cent of those under surveillance were home-quarantined. Isolated in hospitals are 641 people, and they are considered high risk.

Till now, 8,456 samples had been sent for testing of which 7,622 had turned negative.

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