Thiruvananthapuram: After managing to flatten the Covid-19 curve within months of reporting the country's first coronavirus case last year, Kerala is now grappling with a sharp surge in its daily infections, prompting the Centre to send a high-level team to assist it.
However, the state government maintains the "high numbers" are a result of robust surveillance and reporting system, while pointing to its low fatality rate.
Close to 40,000 cases have been reported from the southern state in the last week alone, with a daily addition of around 5,000, even as its neighbours and other high prevalence states like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have started seeing a reversal.
As of Thursday, Kerala recorded 5,051 new coronavirus cases, including four UK returnees and 5,638 recoveries as the total caseload inched towards the eight lakh mark.
The toll stood at 3,234 while the active cases are nearly 65,000.
"The rise in the number of cases in the state is due to a robust surveillance and reporting system. We managed to delay the peak of the pandemic and upgraded the threshold of our health system."
"Our ultimate aim is to save the lives of the people and reduce the mortality rate. Even with this high number of cases, we managed to reduce the death rate," Health Minister K K Shailaja told PTI.
She said the upward graph could also be attributed to the recently concluded local body polls, swept by the ruling CPI(M)-led LDF.
The state saw the virus curve flatten in April-May last year, even as it witnessed an increase in the cases later in the wake of the return of Keralites from abroad following the lockdown.
Shailaja said Kerala managed to maintain a very low case fatality rate in the state even as it was in a vulnerable position with high population density, high number of old-age population and the most number of diabetic patients.
"Yes there is an increase in cases due to the recently concluded local body polls and all. But we need to understand that the pandemic is still here and the lockdown restrictions were eased. The most scientific method of approach in connection with a pandemic is to delay the peak of it."
"Many nations faced a shortage of beds as the cases peaked and choked their health system resulting in high mortality rates," she added.
When asked about the state accounting for over 25 per cent of new cases in the country, she said "it is meaningless to say that Kerala's situation is worse."
"In certain other states, when they reached the peak of the pandemic, thousands had lost their lives and their health systems were choked. It is meaningless to say that Kerala's situation is worse as we have a high number of positive cases. They are not considering the case fatality rate.
"Look at the example of Dharavi (in Mumbai). They have done a good job there. But the pandemic was contained there after nearly 400 deaths," the minister said.
She inissted the state delayed the peak of the pandemic by "maintaining a stable plateau" without a sudden surge in cases and "the advantage is that we could maintain the number of cases within the potential threshold of our health care system giving us breathing space".
By delaying the peak of the pandemic, the government increased the number of ICUs, ventilators in the hospitals and oxygen supply has been ensured to all beds.
"Even though there was an increase in the number of cases, it has only taken up 50 per cent of our hospital capacity. Similarly, we are using only 50 per cent of our ICUs, and only 40 per cent of our ventilators are filled. Our case fatality rate is at 0.4 per cent," she said.
On the Centre deputing a team, headed by the Director of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr S K Singh to support public health interventions for COVID-19 management in Kerala, Shailaja welcomed the move.
"It is always good to have a central team visiting the state. We can explain to them the steps taken by us in containing the virus," she added.
Public Health officials of the state say the percentage of active cases is high in Kerala because of the state's discharge policy which stipulates that the patient should record a negative result before discharge.
"Our increased number of cases at this period of time is rather a reflection of our success of implementing the delaying of the peak of the pandemic rather than our failure. That is the way we deal with a pandemic. The only question that will be asked at the end of the pandemic is how many lives we have saved and at what cost," Dr Mohammed Asheel, Director of Social Security Mission said.
A senior public health official from the state told P T I that along with the case fatality rate, "it is equally important to keep the system from being over stretched."
The official said Kerala never had any issue of shortage of beds in ICUs in the hospitals.
"We never had any issue of shortage of oxygen. Such lapses are being reported even from developed nations. In Kerala such a situation will never arise as we are all prepared. Still we need our numbers to come down and for that public should take the responsibility," the official said.
While the total virus caseload in the state has mounted to 7,95,933, recoveries have touched 7,28,060 and the active cases stand at 64,445, as of Thursday.
At least 1,93,370 people are under observation in various districts, including 11,435 in hospitals....