When the daily tally of fresh COVID-19 cases shot up to 39 on March 27, it was shocking. It gave visions of conditions slipping out of control. This feeling of a fragile normalcy getting shattered came back nearly two months later, on May 22, when fresh cases jumped to 42.
But from then on, the situation has worsened with every passing day. So 67 new cases on Tuesday, though the highest number till now and coming after 62, 53 and 49, will not evoke any new sense of unease.
There is already a feeling that the daily numbers could touch three figures in the coming days. Tuesday's tally is just a reminder of what is in store for Kerala. Panic has given way to acceptance; it is like what a soldier who has been badly shot, but knows more bullets are coming his way, would perhaps feel.
On the verge of 1000 cases
On May 8, the active COVID-19 cases in Kerala was 16. Barely 20 days later, it is 415. And the total confirmed cases in Kerala is just 37 short of 1000.
Of the 67 new cases on Tuesday, 60 have come from outside; 27 from abroad, nine from Tamil Nadu, 15 from Maharashtra, five from Gujarat, two from Karnataka and one each from Pondicherry and Delhi. The remaining seven are said to have got infected through contacts. It s not clear whether their sources of infection are known.
The highest number on Tuesday was reported from Palakkad, 29. Kannur had eight, Kottayam, 6, Malappuram and Ernakulam, five each, Thrissur and Kollam, four each, and Kasaragod and Alappuzha, three each.
Palakkad now has the highest number of cases, 81. Kannur has 76, Malappuram has 53 and Kasaragod 41. Except for Wayanad (8) and Idukki (2), the number of active cases in all the other 12 districts are in double figures.
Taxi and auto drivers beware
In desperation, the LDF government has decided to be harsh about implementing what has been left of the lockdown.
Those driving autorickshaws and cars with more than the permitted number of passengers (one for autos and three for cars) will have their driving licences cancelled.
Tighter norms for arrivals
Those coming from other states without registering in the government's covid19jagratha.kerala.nic.in portal will be asked to part with a hefty fine and forced into a 28-day quarantine in a government facility at their cost.
Trains will also be allowed to enter Kerala only if the passengers to Kerala have registered in the portal. The Pinarayi government has moved swiftly to abort two trains from Mumbai in the last two days because the Railways gave tickets to even those who had not registered with Kerala government's official portal.
“Malayalis wanting to return should register with the government's portal. Only then can we know who they are and whether their homes have facilities for room quarantine,” Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said during his customary sunset briefing in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday.
Perhaps to discourage more people from flying back, it has also been decided that the returnees would henceforth bear the entire cost of the mandatory institutional quarantine they will have to undergo.
Tests will also be ramped up. Plan is to test at least 3,000 samples a day. At the moment, it is 9,000 a week.
Over 2,000 returnees could be infected
Till May 25, 11,189 Malayalis have returned from abroad. Of this, 133 or 1.19 per cent of them have tested positive. Official figures say 1.34 lakh have applied through the official portal for return. If all of them return, at the existing 1.19 per cent rate of infection, 1,595 of them would be infected.
As for Malayalis in other states, 1,01,779 have returned. Of this, 178 or 0.17 per cent have tested positive. It is said that 3.80 lakh people have registered through the government's portal to return from other states. If all of them arrive, at the 0.17 rate of infection, 646 of them would be infected.
Together, 2,241 returnees would be infected. Health experts warned it could be more because many who had returned will test positive in the coming days.
Community spread: Still in denial
The chief minister continued to insist that there was, as yet, no community transmission in Kerala. However, he said we were on the edge of such a community spread.
In the last four days, 31 people have acquired the infection through contact. The source of infection of at least 15, including health workers, remain a mystery.
Unlike other individuals, an health worker is exposed to the virus on all sides; she is like a soldier who enters enemy territory with no cover.
It would be futile to trace her source of infection. It could have been anyone; probably a patient she had cared for, or someone within the family with a travel history, or a silent virus carrier in the community like the dealer or owner of a ration shop or provision store she regularly visits.
Community medicine experts say rather than look for an elusive source it would be better to consider the entire community around the health worker, a panchayat or a taluk, as a transmission cluster and ramp up testing in the area. The government has now decided to conduct 3,000 tests a day from May 27.
In search of origins
Tracing the source of infection is, however, advisable in the case of positive cases who are not considered to have high social exposure. Already, the health authorities have set out to find how three such individuals had go infected.
One of them is Asiya, the 61-year-old Kannur native who had died in Kozhikode Medical College on May 25. Her husband, who is a fish vendor in Thalassery market, and other family members have also tested positive.
The other is a tribal woman of Ayyankunnu pachayat in Kannur who had delivered on the day she was declared positive. No cases have been reported from her area, and none who lives in her colony has a travel history. However, three nurses in Kannur District Hospital, where she was taken to after she complained of severe stomach ache, have tested positive.
The third person with a mystery source is a Kasaragod man who was rushed to Pariyaram Medical College after he fell from a jackfruit tree and damaged his spine. Neither the man nor any of his relatives have a travel history.