Kerala has remained a pandemic flashpoint for a while, reporting high number of fresh cases, triggering fears of a possible third wave in India with its epicentre in the state. But amid the Covid surge in Kerala, a silver lining in the dark cloud has gone unnoticed. Kerala’s case fatality rate, or number of deaths, has been quite low. In fact, it is perhaps the lowest in the country at around 0.5%. India’s overall fatality ratio is at 1.3%. Maharashtra has the highest case-fatality ratio at 2.1%, followed by Delhi (1.7%), Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu (all at 1.3%)
It signals a robust health infrastructure – Kerala has the best in India – can drastically reduce the lethality of a Covid wave. In fact, Kerala may have managed the Covid crisis reasonably well, containing the spread of the disease and hospitalisations, in the process avoiding overburdening its healthcare system. And this may have also ensured that the state gave timely treatment and hospitalisations to those who needed it. There are other such examples in Asia too. Hong Kong and Singapore come to mind.
The Kerala experience is a reminder that India needs to desperately improve its health infra to fight future waves of the pandemic. A concerted effort has been made to expand capacities (build more oxygen plants, add ICU beds, et al.). Let’s hope India has the resources (technicians, doctors, finances) to manage the infrastructure it has been trying to build in recent days.
Kerala has been more honest
Kerala reported the Covid picture in the state more honestly than other states, particularly in the north. It has been testing aggressively ever since the pandemic reared its head in India. Its per capita testing (at 0.77) is the second-highest in India, after Delhi. So, it might be capturing the Covid picture in the country more accurately than most other Indian states. In India, recent ICMR data indicates undercounting of Covid cases is the least in Kerala.
The so-called BIMARU (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh) states are the worst offenders. The undercounting factor is a staggering 100 and 134 in UP and Bihar while in Kerala it’s a relatively modest 6.
Meanwhile, Kerala is also an outperformer in vaccinations, with 40% of its population been given at least one dose, and 17% fully vaccinated. Of course, these figures look considerably better than Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, et al. because Kerala has a much lower population figure, even though its population density in quite high.
How Kerala can contain the pandemic
That brings me to the larger question – whatever the reasons for the recent surge in cases, how can Kerala fight back the resurgent pandemic? The most effective solution may well be vaccination – now, Kerala may have a high population density but its absolute numbers are quite small, compared to many north Indian states as I pointed out.
This is an opportunity to vaccinate Kerala quickly in large numbers to check the rampaging virus. Ladakh, for example, has already vaccinated its entire adult population (total population is about 2.7 lakh) with at least one dose. Kerala must do something similar and accelerate its vaccination drive. The centre must provide Kerala with as many vaccines as the state needs to ensure Covid can be contained in the state.
The world is not safe until Kerala is safe
Remember, no state in India – and even the world for that matter – is safe until Kerala wins the battle against the pandemic. There is also the threat of new mutants emerging if the pandemic continues to flourish in Kerala. New, destructive variants can spread through the country, and the world, in a wink as we know. Just consider our experience with the Delta variant, which originated in India, but spread at the speed of light across the world.
New variants can also make the vaccines less potent and effective – again, this has been our experience with the Delta variant too. Already, breakthrough infections are rising globally, with even the double-vaccinated getting infected, some of them even needing hospitalisation. This, then, remains the next frontier for medical science – make vaccines that not only reduce the severity of the illness but also prevent the infection itself. Until then, we must live with the pandemic and follow all Covid safety protocols for our own well-being.
(Rishi Joshi is Executive Editor with India Ahead News. The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author.)