Influx is taking its toll, active cases in Kerala shoot up to 41

It was emblematic of the new economy-centric approach towards tackling COVID-19.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan cancelled his customary sunset COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday so that it would not overlap with, or in any way overshadow, the announcements of the new economic revival measures that were being unveiled by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

But, as if warning how tough it would be to save both lives and the economy, Kerala has recorded 10 new cases on Wednesday, the first time the State touched double figures since April 29.

In the last five days alone, there have been 29 new cases. Now, the active cases in Kerala has surged to 41, higher than the May 5 figure of 37.

Of the 10 new cases on Wednesday, six are Malayalis who had returned since May 7; four had come from the Gulf and two from Chennai.

A superspreader in Wayanad?

Four others - two in Wayanad and one each in Malappuram and Kannur - are those in the contact list of the truck driver who had returned from Koyambedu market in Chennai and had tested positive in the first week of May.

The Malappuram and Kannur positive cases are policemen who were on duty at the Muthanga check-post and had come into contact with the truck driver.

Till now, the driver had transmitted the virus to 10, including his wife, mother, grandchild and two policemen. It is said there are over 50 names in the truck driver's primary contact list. But the man had infected even a secondary contact, the wife of a cement retailer in Wayanad.

The driver had handed over a bill to the retailer but the retailer's wife, who had not even seen the driver, was declared positive on May 11.

Vanishing COVID-free districts

On Wednesday, Malappuram recorded three fresh cases, Wayanad and Palakkad two each, and Kottayam, Kannur and Kozhikode one each. Both Malappuram and Wayanad now has active cases in double digits: 10.

There was just a lone recovery on the day, in Kollam. The number of COVID-free districts have come down to three. Four days ago, there were eight.

Third wave menace

A top health official said the second COVID wave, which began with the Italy cluster in Ranni and reached a peak on April 6 with 266 active cases, was only the trailer of, or an easy initiation into, what would happen during the third wave.

During the second wave, the infected were those who had returned before March 22, a period when the spread of virus was relatively low in Gulf countries. Two months ago, the spread in other states was also considerably low.

But now, Malayalis are returning in big numbers from regions where the virus is on a high. Saudi Arabia reports nearly 2000 cases a day, Qatar has over 1500 fresh cases a day, Kuwait has nearly 1000 and UAE nearly 800.

Same is the case with states from where the most number of Malayalis are returning. Maharashtra has over 1200 cases a day, and Tamil Nadu has 800.

Desperate, symptomatic returnees

Danger is, many are returning with symptoms; those coming in flights and even those arriving in groups from other states. Suspicions of illness is either ignored or even masked when desperation - induced especially by job loss, illness and even pregnancy - is driving the return.

A Malappuram native who had tested positive on Wednesday had symptoms when he reached the Walayar check-post in Palakkad on May 9. The 44-year-old man, who works in a juice shop at Kottippakkam in Chennai, had come in a mini-bus with nine others. He did not have a travel permit either.

Futility of prior testing

It looks like even prior testing, as the Chief Minister is insisting for returnees from abroad, has not prevented the import of the virus.

A 27-year-old pregnant woman and her three-year-old son, for instance, had tested for the virus in Kuwait but by the time their results came they had returned, and were in home quarantine.

Her father-in-law was under treatment for COVID in Kuwait.

At the Nedumbassery airport she or the child did not show any symptoms and was therefore asked to go into home quarantine. The woman's mother-in-law and her husband's brother had come to pick her and the kid from the airport.

Once she was informed of the result from Kuwait, she promptly informed health authorities and they were taken in an ambulance to Manjeri Medical College. Another Malappuram native who had travelled with them had also tested positive. Now the woman's mother-in-law and the family of her husband's brother are under tight watch.

It is also the most vulnerable who are returning. A 34-year-old youth who had tested positive in Malappuram on May 12 was living in a labour camp at Musafa in Abu Dhabi. He was a transport coordinator of a private taxi service.

He had respiratory issues even before boarding the plane from Abu Dhabi. Still, the antibody tests conducted on him did not show positive.

Surveillance goes up

The number of people under observation has, not surprisingly, seen a quantum jump. At the moment, 34,447 people are placed under surveillance in Kerala, in homes and hospitals.

On May 6, when the influx officially began, he number under surveillance was only 14,670.

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