The official COVID-19 figures put out for Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesday tells only half the story. It says that there were 64 new cases and 60 of them were through contacts, both record figures. And virtually all the contact cases, 58 of them, were from densely populated coastal areas of Poonthura, Manikkavilakam, Beemapally and Puthenpally wards in Thiruvananthapuram Corporation.
Reality is even scarier. Top District Health officials say there are over 100 cases in the coastal belt alone. "The official tally is based on the figures available by 12 noon. It does not include the positive cases that are declared after that. We have increased testing in the coastal areas, especially using the quick and accurate antigen test kits," the official said.
The Chief Minister's Office had earlier in the day put out an official release saying that 119 of the 600 samples taken from the coastal areas had tested positive. Unofficially, it is said the number has touched 200 by Wednesday evening, a clear hint that the virus spread has gone out of control. These figures left out on Wednesday will be included in the July 9 figures.
A Health official termed the spread "abnormal". Antigen tests are being done in Poonthura and the results are coming fast. "It looks like everyone is positive," the Health official said. The spread looks swift, random and widespread that the government has imposed stringent movement restrictions in these areas from Wednesday. The scourge has swept entire families and neighbourhoods have been declared positive.
The first man to be declared positive in the area, a fish merchant in Puthenpally, has infected 13 members of his family and at least 15 people in his neighbourhood. It is said there are at least 10 families in these areas who have been fully infected.
All the wards have been sealed and byroads that open out into the national highway from these wards have also been closed.
These wards will now have just single entry and exit points. People have also been asked to keep indoors and a 25-member team of commandos have been deployed in the area under SAP Commandant-in-Charge L Solomon.
The Coast Guard, Coastal Security and Marine Enforcement have been asked to take steps to prevent fishermen from going out into the sea.
Spurt of random cases
Faced with such a swell of cases that have turned positive all of a sudden and out of nowhere, the district administration has conveniently linked most of these cases to a fish merchant in Puthenpally. Even cases unknown to the fish merchant, and living three to four kilometres away from his house, are now considered his primary or secondary contacts.
Fact is, the man had been in two private hospitals in the city for six days after he developed symptoms in June 23. Given the incubation period of seven to 14 days, it is also likely that many positive cases could have got the infection from other sources.
Instead of a superspreader, a place could be the point from where the infection has radiated out to the community. There is a growing consensus to declare Kumarichantha Fish Market as the point from where the infection has begun.
Even when the busy Chalai and Palayam markets in he capital city were shut, the fish market was allowed to function without hindrance. It was closed down only late in June.
Many headload workers, fish vendors and staff of wholesale merchants based in Kumarichantha have tested positive. Auto drivers who transported fish vendors from Kumarichantha to city areas too have been infected. Customers who had come to purchase fish, like staff of hotels in the city who purchase fish in bulk, are also among the infected.
Where social distancing is impossible
Densely packed coastal hamlets like Poonthura are ideal hunting ground for the virus. Not only are houses jammed close together but eight to 10 people are stuffed in small boxy homes not wide enough for even three people.
In certain poorer pockets, there is just a single toilet for five to six houses. During the last week, six to seven children below the age of 12 are being declared positive on a daily basis in the area.
Social distancing is laughable for people leading such a crowded lifestyle. The ward members Onmanorama talked to were doubtful if people would abide by the strict social distancing rules.
Even if the lockdown is adhered to, there is every chance of transmission. "But at least we can prevent them from transmitting outside the community," a top Health official said.
The only point of relief is that the transmission is concentrated in a very small area. "The spread is fortunately contained within Poonthura, Puthenpally, Manikavilakom and the eastern part of Beemapally. Strict lockdown could prevent the virus from spreading outside this zone," the health official sad.
It is also said most of the positive cases are either asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic. "Hopefully, the famed fishermen immunity would see us through this crisis," the official added.