It appears that Kerala is firmly in the grips of the third COVID-19 wave as recorded its highest-single day spike in coronavirus cases – 46,387 – since the pandemic broke out in March 2020 on Thursday. The southern state had last reported its highest daily tally in May 2021 at 43,529.
We take a look at what’s going wrong in Kerala, which was hailed as a unique success story in battling the virus during the first wave in 2020.
COVID rages across Kerala
On Thursday, the state recorded a high of 46,387 cases, taking its test positivity rate (TPR) to 40.2 per cent — the highest ever figure since the onslaught of the pandemic.
The worst-hit capital district of Thiruvananthapuram has 9720 new cases with a test positivity rate of 46.68 per cent. In the districts of Ernakulam and Kozhikode also TPR has gone up to 45.6 per cent and 42 per cent, respectively.
Data from the state shows that as of now, there are 1,99,041 active cases. Among these, only 3 per cent are hospitalised. A total of 32 deaths were confirmed and another 309 deaths were added as part of the reconciliation process underway in the state. The total number of deaths touched 51,501.
A comparative analysis with last week showed that the number of infections had risen by 204 per cent. Similarly, the number of people under treatment has increased by 201 per cent while the number of patients in hospital saw an increase of 70 per cent.
Moreover, the number of active patients, number of those admitted in hospitals, field hospitals, ICU, ventilator and in oxygen supported beds has increased by 201 per cent, 70 per cent, 126 per cent, 48 per cent, 14 per cent and 64 per cent respectively, during 13-19 January compared to the previous week.
Lockdown-like restrictions imposed
In an attempt to contain the spread of the virus, the Kerala government on Thursday imposed fresh restrictions.
After holding a high-level meet yesterday, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan announced that only essential services should be allowed on the next two Sundays — 23 and 30 January.
It was also decided to allow working women with children below the age of two, cancer patients and seriously ill persons to work through the work from home system.
It directed institutions including businesses, malls, beaches, and other tourist places like theme parks, to ensure no gatherings take place and operate strictly adhering to COVID-19 protocols.
The state also announced that restrictions would be imposed at district level on the basis of the number of people admitted to hospitals and authorised the Disaster Management Authority to divide the districts into three groups, A, B and C.
In districts falling under the A category, all social, cultural, religious, political and public events and weddings and funerals can be attended by up to 50 people.
However, in B and C category districts, no such gatherings would be allowed. Also in such areas, religious worship would be conducted online only.
In C category districts, movie theatres, swimming pools and gyms would be shut down.
All classes (including tuition centres) — except undergraduate and postgraduate level final year classes besides 10 and 12 classes — are allowed online only in C category districts. However, residential educational institutions are allowed to operate on a bio-bubble model.
What has gone wrong?
During the first wave of the pandemic, the Kerala Model was touted as a huge success. The state government took a more proactive approach in combating the virus than other states.
Kerala closed schools and banned mass gatherings weeks before the central government followed suit, and it deployed thousands of health workers to test, trace, and isolate people who might have been exposed to the virus. Kerala went into complete lockdown days before the central government announced a nationwide lockdown at the end of March.
In April last year, as COVID-19 overwhelmed large parts of the country, Kerala staved off the worst of the crisis.
But that didn’t last too long and by August-September last year, the situation turned awry. Cases rose spectacularly and many declared that the Kerala Model was a failure.
Kerala health minister Veena George has cautioned people against the "super-spread" of the pandemic and said both Delta and Omicron variants of the virus are contributing to the ongoing unprecedented surge in daily cases.
Also, pandemic fatigue has set in with people and fewer people are adhering to COVID protocols such as masking and social distancing.
In December, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan also commented how the state had failed in its COVID control measures.
He had said that the scenario of opening up everything without restrictions did not augur well. He had also questioned the state's heavy dependence on antigen testing, rather than RT-PCR tests.
Other experts also suggested Kerala's early success meant fewer people had developed immunity to COVID-19. "If you have a higher fraction of susceptible people in a population, then the effective 'R' value of the disease is going to be higher, meaning, on average one infected individual will infect more than one person. There is little doubt that Kerala's early success meant that relatively few people in the state had the disease and acquired some level of immunity," Murad Banaji, mathematics lecturer at Middlesex University in the United Kingdom, who has been examining India's COVID-19 data, told IndiaSpend.
With inputs from agencies