On the last date for withdrawal of assembly poll nominations, on March 22, Kerala's doubling rate or the speed with which COVID-19 cases were growing did not cause any alarm. It was 618.
Meaning, at the pace with which cases were increasing at that point it would take a year and 253 days for the number to double, a kind of snail's pace.
But from the next day on, when the campaign for the Assembly polls began in earnest and large gatherings became the norm across Kerala, the doubling rate plummeted to 386.37 days. Meaning, at that pace it would take only a year and 27 days for COVID-19 cases in Kerala to double. A clear indication that the virus spread had accelerated the moment the election campaign began.
On April 6, on election day, the doubling rate was 225.51 per cent, indicating further acceleration in the spread. But even this did not give the impression that the virus was doing major harm, was rampaging through the thickly populated state.
Campaign period delusion
Experts point out that the daily figures during the campaign period could be highly misleading. "In hindsight, it is evident the situation was far worse than what the official figures suggested," said a senior member of the COVID-19 advisory team of the Kerala government.
"During the campaign time, daily testing was considerably low and as a consequence, the test positivity rate (TPR) showed a delusional figure of five per cent or lower," the official said.
Nonetheless, he maintained that the testing was kept low not on purpose but under the mistaken belief that the COVID situation was easing.
Officially, Kerala defeats COVID
Between March 22 (last date of nomination withdrawal) and April 6 (polling day), the highest number of daily tests done was 59,051, on April 6. Not surprisingly, the highest TPR, the number of people infected when 100 are tested, during the stretch was on that very day: 5.93 per cent. However, during the rest of the campaign period, the TPR hovered between 3 and 4 per cent.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the pandemic is under control if the TPR is under 5 per cent for a period of two weeks. In Kerala's case, the TPR was below 5 for more than a month before the election date.
Had these figures been sound, Kerala should have had the pandemic firmly under control by the first week of April. Instead, the opposite happened.
Soon after the elections, when the number of tests was enhanced, doubling time began to drop considerably and the TPR acquired a giant-sized swell on a daily basis. On April 11, when 65,003 tests were done, the TPR crossed 10 for the first time after February 3 this year. The doubling time fell to 115.15 on the day.
When the number of tests crossed 80,000 for the first time during the second wave, on April 17, the TPR jumped to 17.04 per cent and the doubling time dropped to 60.83. If figures on March 22 showed it would take nearly two years for cases to double, in less than a month, on April 17, it showed that cases would double in just two months.
On April 22, when more than 1.35 lakh tests were done, the doubling time in Kerala fell to 32.60. For the first time, Kerala's doubling time went below the national average of 35.7, which global experts had termed as “shockingly low”. On that day, the TPR touched 20 per cent.
On May 5, Kerala's doubling time fell to its lowest point during the second wave: 28.47. It was also the day Kerala conducted the most number of tests to date, 1.63 lakh. The TPR shot up to 25.48 per cent. It was four days later, on May 9, that Kerala touched its highest ever TPR, 28.88 per cent.
But since the number of tests done on May 9 was relatively low, 1.23 lakh, the new cases were also relatively low, which in turn threw up a relatively feel-good doubling time of 36.49, which was slightly better than the national average.
Ignoring local body poll surge
It is feared complacency could have set in because Kerala failed to ramp up tests to requisite levels, to above one lakh a day, after the local body polls in December. The local body polls, too, had witnessed massive public participation and the chances of greater spread were as high as after the Assembly polls. Yet, testing went on as usual.