It looks like Kerala has chosen Easter Sunday as the beginning of its resurrection.
After remaining flat for nine days in a row, Kerala's curve of fresh COVID-19 cases has shown a stunning celebratory drop. Only two new samples have tested positive on Sunday. The last time Kerala had two or fewer cases was before March 19, the initial phase of the contagion.
This was also the day when Kerala had 36 recoveries, the highest number ever to recover from COVID-19 in a single day in the country. The number still infected has come down to 194; barely a week ago, on April 6, Kerala had 266 active cases.
Here is a fact of even greater significance: 28 of the 36 patients cured are in Kasaragod, the most affected district. This is a clear sign that the government's efforts to pump muscle into the district's traditionally weak health infrastructure on a war footing were paying off; the state-of-the-art COVID Care Centre in Kasaragod had come up in just four days.
There is yet another reason for a party. Since April 8 there has been an uncomfortable rise in the number of primary contacts who had turned positive relative to the number who had come infected from outside the state, especially foreign countries. There were fears that we may soon witness the virus spreading deeper into the community, moving from primary contacts to secondary contacts.
But on Sunday, the disturbing trend came to an abrupt halt. There was not a single primary contact in the confirmed cases. But experts feel the numbers of primary contacts testing positive would go up in the coming days as long as here are imported patients.
But if there are no more primary contacts even in the coming days, experts Onmanorama talked to said it would mean two things. One, the virus's networked run in Kerala has come to an end. Two, it will also suggest that the virulence is wearing off because even those who had come infected from outside have acquired a sort of preventive capacity to block whatever is left of the virus in their body from infecting others.
The two new cases confirmed on Sunday, one in Kannur and the other in Pathanamthitta, had returned from Dubai and Sharjah respectively. This is once again proof that Kerala has managed to contain the spread of the virus within the close contacts of those returning from outside.
Quite in keeping with the receding fears of infection, the number under surveillance has also kept dropping. From a peak of 1,71,355 on April 4, the number has shrunk to 1,16,941 on Sunday.
Still, for Kerala to finally say cheers, some nagging worries have to be put to eternal rest. One is the rising number of asymptomatic cases. It is said that 85 per cent of Sars-CoV-2 carriers would suffer only the mildest of symptoms. But what has perplexed authorities is the absolute lack of symptoms in a sizable chunk of positive cases.
This throws up the bewildering possibility of many infected persons outside surveillance net moving around as if nothing had happened. “This is why the Chief Minister had insisted that all should wear masks. It will ensure that the infected aerosols, from the vocal cords of these asymptomatic patients, that float in the atmosphere are not taken in by others,” a top health official said.
Yet another concern is the suspicion of community transmission. Till now, Kasaragod was the only place that had shown signs of widespread infection; there were at least two foreign returnees in the district who had gone around meeting people as if they were politicians on an election trail. The fears are now gradually subsiding with lesser number of people turning positive.
Panic did rise in Thiruvananthapuram when 69-year-old Pothencode native Abdul Azeez died. He had no travel history nor had he any known record of contact with those from infected regions. But group testing of the Pothencode cluster did not reveal the presence of the virus. Panic has quickly gone underground.
However, huge uncertainty prevails in Malappuram district. Two Tablighi returnees who had tested positive in the district on April 11 had reportedly attended innumerable mass gatherings in the district, coming into close contact with probably more than 500 people.
But there are reasons why the district holds firmly on to hope. Earlier it had turned out that a Keezhatur resident, accused of violating quarantine and meeting people extensively after his return from Umrah pilgrimage, did not infect a single person.
Even the district's first confirmed case, 50-year-old Mariakutty, who also had close contacts with over 300 people after her return from Umrah had not passed on the infection to another. “It could be that the virus has low virulence in Kerala, and that could be our most potent shield,” a health official said.
Inordinate delay in antibody testing
Still, a seemingly mild virus should not allow complacency to set in. Rapid testing has to be done in vulnerable clusters as quick as possible. However, the kits for the purpose have not yet reached. There were supposed to reach on April 7. On April 8, at the high-level review meeting chaired by the Chief Minister, it was said they would reach by April 13.
Now, sources said chances of the kits reaching Kerala even on this delayed date looks highly remote.