Kerala reports just one COVID-19 case second time in 3 days, but worries still persist

Kerala reports just one COVID-19 case 2nd time in 3 days
A doctor wearing a protective gear takes a swab from a child to test for coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kurla slums, in Mumbai, India, April 15, 2020. Photo: Vishnu V Nair

The number of daily positive cases during the last week looks like a throwback to the first week of the COVID-19 outbreak in Kerala. It was only during the first week of the contagion, starting from March 9, that Kerala had two days with just a single positive case (March 9 and 19).

With a lone positive case confirmed in Kerala on Friday, the last seven days, too, had two days with just one confirmed case (April 15 and 17). If the first week induced a sense of foreboding, that things would inevitably get bad, the last seven days offer hope that it is only a matter of time before the virus is bottled.

If the virus spread can be plotted on the path a projectile takes when thrown up in the air, it can be said that the COVID-19 projectile peaked on April 6 when the number of active cases touched 266, with the upward surge getting the maximum acceleration on March 27 and March 30 when 39 and 32 tested positive. Now, losing momentum after April 6, it is on the way down, nearly touching base levels.

Still the daily reported cases have not fallen to the first week levels. If the first seven days from March 9 had reported 41 new cases, the last seven days had 68 cases.

Spirited fight back

Yet Kerala's recovery rate suggests a super-efficient counter-attack. If on April 11, seven days before, 143 patients had recovered, by Friday the number of people who had beaten the virus has shot up to 255. Today alone 10 had recovered, and this included two health inspectors who were infected while on duty at the Nedumbassery International Airport.

The active cases in Kerala has shrunk to 138, which is less than 35 per cent of the total confirmed cases of 395. It also helped that nearly 95 per cent of the infected were either asymptomatic or had only very mild symptoms. Less than 10 patients had to be put on ventilator.

Kasaragod, the worst affected district, has also shown the biggest resilience. It has 168 confirmed cases but 113 or nearly 68 per cent had already recovered. Worryingly, recovery rate in Kannur is not as buoyant. Kasaragod has brought its active cases down to 55 but Kannur's has inched up to 44. Both the districts together account for 72 per cent of he active cases in Kerala. Behind them is Kozhikode, with 10 active cases.

Curious case of a Kozhikode family

However, the continued emergence of positive cases among people who returned to Kerala on or before March 22 has become a new source of worry. Five of a family in Kozhikode, which had two Gulf returnees, had tested positive on March 15 and 16. Curiously, the first person to test positive in the family was not the Gulf returnees but their 81-year-old father with no travel history. It was only after the father turned positive that the others were tested and were found positive. More in the family are expected to test positive in the coming days.

Since April 7, when experts say the last of the foreign returnees should have tested positive, 23 more had come out positive, at least 10 of them after 20 days and in the case of the two Kozhikode men after 28 and 29 days.

Health officials say all of them are asymptomatic, and therefore were not infective. But this defence will sound more like a cover up after what happened to the Kozhikode family.

Relaxed quarantine

It is also now clear that quarantine is not being strictly followed. Not only are these asymptomatic foreign returnees being tested early but, under the false confidence they are free of the virus, they also seem to mingle freely with close family members. Those under quarantine are supposed to stay alone in a bath-attached room and are prohibited from stepping out. They themselves are also supposed to wash the plates on which they are served their food. "But many have come out after 14 days not aware that the state had prescribed a 28-day quarantine for them," a top health official in Kannur said.

Mass testing of remaining returnees

With more foreign returnees turning positive, there is a suggestion that all foreign returnees who are still in quarantine should be tested within a two-day period. However, it is said Kerala did not have the testing capacity for that.

At the moment, Kerala can test at the most 1200 samples a day. It is approximated that there could be at least 10,000 foreign returnees among the 78,980 people under surveillance in the whole of the state.

If antibody test kits were available, they could have also been pressed into service to check how many of the remaining returnees carry the virus. Reportedly, some 10 lakh kits have arrived from China but Kerala, which has placed orders for nearly two lakh kits, is yet to receive it.

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