In an interview that will please neither the Kerala government nor, because of its last few minutes, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the Modi government, the director of the National Centre for Disease Control has explained in detail why he believes Kerala’s COVID-19 response is “not adequate” and why he strongly disagrees with Professor Gagandeep Kang’s claim that Kerala is a role model for the rest of the country.
In the last five minutes of his interview, Dr Sujeet Kumar Singh said that the BJP’s Jan Ashirwad Yatras, which are due to start on August 16, “should be avoided”. We do not need super-spreading events at this stage, he argued.
Singh, who last week visited Kerala as the head of a special team sent by the Union government to look into the state’s handling of COVID-19, discussed three areas where Kerala’s COVID-19 response is inadequate and improper.
First, he said, the state is not doing enough contact tracing. The case contact ratio is between 1:1.2 and 1:1.7 as per the eight districts his team visited. This means Kerala is not even tracing one person for every person infected. He specifically said that in many instances, even the household contacts of an infected person have not been properly traced and checked. According to him, for every infected person, the number contacted and traced should be “not less than 15”.
Second, Dr Singh said Kerala is not properly monitoring people in home isolation. Given that up to 80% of Kerala’s COVID-19 patients are in home isolation, this is a matter of concern. He also said newspaper reports that people in home isolation are often freely wandering in their neighbourhood are correct.
Dr Singh’s third concern is the increasing pressure on Kerala’s healthcare facilities in its northern districts. In Malappuram, for example, hospitals are almost 90% full. At the rate at which Kerala’s cases are growing (over 20,000 a day), ICU and ventilator facilities could soon be exhausted in many northern districts, he argued. However, he said that overall, the stress on Kerala’s healthcare system cannot be compared to what was experienced in northern India two-three months ago.
Dr Singh made a point of praising Kerala’s very high levels of vaccination as well as the extremely effective measures it took in the first year of COVID-19 to protect its people, which is reflected in the state’s low sero-positivity percentage.
Asked to sum up his overall view of Kerala’s handling of COVID-19, Dr Singh twice shied away from using adjectives like ‘negligence’ or ‘lack of diligence’. He preferred to say it was “not adequate”.