Was Pinarayi right about mass agitations and COVID spread? He has ICMR backing

Was Pinarayi right about mass agitations and COVID spread? He has ICMR backing
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan

The second round of Sero Surveillance conducted by the ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) seems to have given the scientific stamp of approval to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's oft-repeated charge that irresponsible social behaviour (read mass political agitations) had led to the spike in COVID cases in September.

As per the results of the ICMR Sero Surveillance second round for Kerala, only 0.8 per cent of those tested in Kerala during the second half of August had traces of IgB antibodies, a sign that they had been infected and had recovered. (These antibodies will remain even after the person recovers.)

This was eight times less than the national average, which was a whopping 6.6 per cent in the same period.

The swell of the pandemic from May to August in Kerala was also less than moderate, the Chief Minister said during his sunset briefing on Tuesday. "The ICMR study says it increased just 2.4 times in three months when nationally, the pandemic grew by a factor of nine," the chief minister said.

In the first round of Sero Surveillance done in Kerala, IgG antibodies were found in just 0.33 per cent of those tested, and this marginally increased to 0.8 per cent in the second half of August. But for India as a whole, it was 0.73 per cent in May and by the second half of August, the number of people who had already been infected and recovered had risen nine times to 6.6 per cent.

"One only has to look at the density of population in other parts of India and Kerala to realise the importance of such a feat," the chief minister said. (As per the 2011 census, Kerala is the third most thickly populated state in the country after Bihar and West Bengal.)

Vijayan said Kerala also had the largest proportion of the elderly in its population. The 2011 census says it is 12.6 per cent, the highest in the country.

Other factors like the mass arrival of non-residents and the blurred rural-urban divide also make Kerala an ideal destination for the virus to spread, the chief minister said. "The study (ICMR Sero Surveillance), therefore, shows that we could keep the virus in check to a considerable degree when compared to the national average," Vijayan said. "Our efforts were not in vain," he added.

Citing the ICMR Sero Surveillance study, he also said Kerala had a far more efficient gate-keeping mechanism than other parts of India. "If we had missed 10 positive patients for every one detected, nationally it was found that 100 positive patients were missed." 

If a surge happened in September, Vijayan said it was only because there was a collective loosening of guard.

The chief minister has a point because till the last week of August, the test positivity rate (TPR) in Kerala hovered between 5 and 6 per cent.

But after Onam, celebrated this year towards the end of August and early September and during which shoppers behaved as if COVID had still not left China, the TPR rose to over 8 per cent.

Then, by the second week of September, mass agitations demanding the ouster of higher education minister K T Jaleel began. By the end of September, the positivity rate crossed 14 per cent.

Now, a week after the opposition stopped mass protests, lending further credence to the chief minister's charge that the protests were causing a spike in infections, the TPR has shown a tendency to land.

In the last two days, the TPR has fallen to 13 per cent from a high of 14.56 on October 4. On October 5, the TPR was 13.01, and on Tuesday, October 6, it was 13.1 per cent.

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