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How Kerala in India is fighting #Covid19?

As the entire world has been impacted by #Covid19 Kerala also has its share of firefighting going on. Statistics would say that this was a fight started on 26 Jan 2020 when Kerala’s health minister organized a meeting with her secretary to discuss the impact of the Novel Coronavirus spreading in China. We would argue that this was a preparation that started many decades ago when Kerala decided to focus on ‘purpose’ and less on profit. Result of which we are seeing now in the way Govt and various peoples movements are fighting #Covid19
Some of the highlights from Kerala’s handling of #Covid19
From 29 Jan till today, while 180,000 people are under observation, Kerala has shown the highest recovery rate in India and the lowest mortality of 2 persons out of 314 positive cases.

Daily press conferences ensuring transparency– Similar to how the Chief Minister used to address and media and people during the great floods of 2018 and 19, CM along with the health minister gives a regular update about #Covid19 management. Q and A session with the media in a calm manner with rationale and supported by science and facts is educative. Knowing that there is a strong educated leadership during this crisis is a relief for people.

Solidarity during the crisis – Whether it is the opposition party of Congress in Kerala or Ruling party of BJP in the central Govt, state Govt has been supportive and accommodating to their ideas and vice versa. One of the recent highlight was the efforts taken by Congress MP Sashi Tharoor organizing 10000 Rapid test kits and how the efforts were acknowledged by the CM during his press meet.

Learning from past experiences: Cyclone Okhi, two consecutive floods, and two incidents of Nipah virus in the state has emboldened the administration and people to focus on resilience. Lessons learned didn’t end up as only a case study, but implemented as a collective. Governance with compassion and empathy is becoming a role model for the rest of the country.

Contact tracing maps published by district administration through their social media handles.

Contact tracing & Route Maps – By the time the first positive case was reported in Kerala, WHO had reported the presence of novel Coronavirus in 23 other countries. Implementing the protocol and SOPs designed during the Nipah virus spread in 2018 and 19 ensured that community spread hasn’t reported yet in the state. Contact tracing including publishing route maps of patients travel itinerary and contacts made were documented professionally and published on govt run social media handles.

Quarantine comfort: Reports from across the state highlighted the hygiene and comfort provided to those in isolation.

Live videos coming from various hospitals shows the success of the public health system in Kerala. While 171355are at home quarantine, 734are under observation in hospital including foreigners. Photos of food served in Government hospitals at no cost in the district of Ernakulam had become viral. The fact that a three-year old child from Italy under observation in the Government hospital could have his favorite pasta ( in an otherwise rice eating state) showed the efforts taken by the state to ensure that no one was left behind.

Max tests followed by rapid testing. According to health department announcements, so far 9744 tests have been done. For a population of 33.5 millions this would like negligible. While every passenger arriving at the four international airports were screened, Kerala had started to screen domestic travelers entering the state visa flights, trains, buses, and boats. During his daily briefing on the Covid-19 situation in the State, the Chief Minister disclosed that steps have been taken to increase the number of tests being conducted. “Currently we are carrying out the test when there are 4-5 symptoms in a person but from now on, even if there are only 1-2 symptoms, we will conduct the test. The rapid test kits will also be used to do more tests. However, those who test negative using the rapid test kit would still have to continue under observation.

It is possible that they may test positive at a later stage.” Out of the 295 confirmed, 206 patients are those who came from abroad, seven foreign nationals (tourists) and 78 who got through primary contact with infected persons. Yesterday the state has introduced South Korea style Walk-in Sample Kiosks in Ernakulam to ensure least contact or exposure while taking swabs.

Focus on Mental health– For providing psycho-social support to the families of suspected persons 1015 professionals have been deployed across the state. From the irst week of Feb 2020 onwards, 152699 tele-counselling services were provided until today. Similar initiatives were taken during the post flood phase in 2018 and 2019 as well. These tele services are over and above 24×7 call centers launched across the state including district headquarters to clear any doubts citizens have about Covid 19.

Leading from the front: Health department – Even by 6thFeb 2020, more than 100000 professionals including doctors, paramedics and community volunteers were trained about Covid19 management as part of Plan A. Plan A also ensured fifty Govt hospitals and two pvt hospitals with 924 isolation beds readied with 242 beds on standby. Plan B has more than 1400 isolation beds and 17 in standy. As the state is still on Plan B, more than 100000 beds are prepared including 5000 ICU with ventillators in case of an emergency as part of Plan C.

The Tourism Industry has been repurposing their hotels, lodges, guest houses and resorts for the same on request from the state Government.

Fighting fake news:
Social media workshop including curbing fake news with facebook under the leadership of state corona control cell as early as 11 feb . Kerala Startup Mission launched GOK – Alert an app that provides updates about #Covid19 in Malayalam, English, Hindi, Bangla, Tamil and Odiya ensuring the migrant population are not left behind. Anti Fake News Division Kerala is the new initiative from Information and Public Relation ministry.

Caring for minute details: Understanding the surge of internet usage during lockdown, Govt has augmented broadband internet strength in partnership with internet service providers. Govt also has offered to recharge the mobile phone data for those who are in hospital quarantine. Police volunteers are going to extend of ensuring medicines are distributed for those with prescriptions for other ailments.

Break the chain initiative: To ensure that every nook and corner of Kerala go the message of the importance of social distancing and hand-washing with soap and hand sanitizers, govt launched #BreakTheChain campaign which became viral. Civil society, tourism entrepreneurs and even the local police created well thought out campaigns that caught the attention of the public.

Sanitiser & Mask production: Following the break the chain initiative, Departments of industries kick-started mass production of hand sanitizers and jail inmates joined other volunteers to produce more than 100000 masks that could be used by the public. As WHO has proposed using masks now, more community volunteers including popular filmstars are training citizens on how to make safe masks at home.

Midday meal delivery: Kerala runs one of the most successful and efficient midday meal programs in India for children. As schools for shut down for the month of March, Govt ensured that their meal reached home, which now continues to the month of April. The program benefits more than 375000 students based out of 33000 schools.

Awareness amongst immigrant workers: Migrant laborers, called by the Govt as ‘guest workers’, are ensured three meals a day during the lock-down. Communication for the same has been issued in their mother tongues ranging from Tamil, Bangla, Hindi and Odiya.

Sannadha Volunteers network:2,36,000-member strong Community Volunteer Force to support special tasks initiated by local self-governing bodies in the wake of Covid 19. 200 community volunteers in 941 panchayats,500 in 87 municipalities and 750 in 6 municipal corporations are currently operational. Community volunteers are supporting local home delivery of food, to be bystanders in hospital and support personnel during the emergency.

Free food provisions through public distribution system: To ensure Kerala is hunger -ree during the covid19 crisis. The Government has started distributing 15kg food grain (rice and wheat) to more than 8 million ‘ration’ card-holders for free. The distribution happened last week through 1,41,89 shops following the protocol of safe physical distances.

Role of Kerala Startup Mission: Expecting a surge in demand for ventilators, KSUM has constituted a team to produce manual and automated ventilators at a cheaper cost using locally available materials. Robots are ready to distributing sanitiers to avoid human contacts. Websites like facilitated by KSUM untill date has collected 1745 ideas and 270 product solutions . From this, 46 ideas have been selected for implementation and 153 ideas have been selected after the econd evaluation. As for product solutions, a total of 79 solutions have been selected.

Community kitchens  Kerala has launched 1000 plus community kitchens across the state managed by the efficient women-led organization called Kudumbashree in partnership with local self-government bodies ensuring food reached home for those needed during the lock-down. Orders need to be registered in the morning over the phone and both vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals are served at home for a measly Rs 20. This has become convenient for those who are elderly and living alone and find it difficult to cook on their own.
Assisting stranded travellers: Once airlines and governments announced locked down, tourism department along with travel trade volunteers decided to set up district-level help-desks to support stranded travelers in the state. During the initial days of confusion, when some of the hotels refused to accept stranded visitors, Chief Minister himself came forward with an appeal to take care of our guests and make them comfortable while ensuring the local community wasn’t vulnerable.Tourism brings in 6 billion USD revenue to the state annually. Covid19 came to a state that was slowly recovering from Climate Crisis induced natural disasters and a Nipah virus scares. Hotels were doing its peak business when the new disaster struck. Govt has been actively working with various Govts in the world to send back those guests who are tested negative and been in quarantine from 14-28 days.

Kerala in the Southern part of India is an interesting place to live, work and visit for many reasons. Over and above it’s a natural beauty, memories that our travelers take back with them are mostly about the people. Their warmth, smiling faces and service are part and parcel of the Kerala experience for millions of travelers that visit the state. Known in tourist circle as ‘Gods Own Country’, it is in fact it’s people that is the asset of this place. Still in the initial stages, it is one of the few states in India that has taken responsible tourism as a serious way forward.

What makes Kerala special?

Geographically spread over some of the bio-diversity regions in the world ( Western Ghats), Kerala has more population than many countries combined within its 38000 sq kms. It’s one of the most densely populated state in India with more than 800 people living per sq km. Its spices attracted explorers, traders and invaders from around the world.

Though the tourism industry contributes more than 10% of its state GDP, it’s heavy dependence on non-resident citizens living in the Middle East gave it a moniker ‘Money Order Economy’. India’s first and worlds second democratically elected Communist Govt ( after San Morino in 1945) came to power in Kerala 5 April 1956. Land reform movements, educational reforms and public health policy brought in by the first Govt after India became a republic has been well documented. To add to the spice, you still hear about the role of the Catholic Church and CIA collided with the Union Govt to pull down the ministry after only two years of existence.

By 2020, Kerala is even more interesting for the way it evolved over decades. Highest literacy rate, lower infant mortality, average life expectancy, declining population growth, a higher proportion of women to men, highest HDI and Physical Quality of Life Index in India, number of graduates and skilled and labour, a spread of the middle class, access to public health care even in remotest villages are some of the often sited ‘development’ indices for scholars.

While ensuring a good quality of life for its citizens, irrespective of the political affiliations various Govts had, It is also known as the best place to die thanks to community-level palliative care treatment. The Economist Intelligence report in 2007 featured India at bottom of ranking on a study about End of life care. The same report concluded that Kerala model of palliative care is ‘beacon of hope’. Scientific and rational thinking are making Kerala a different kind of horizon especially when the country is moving towards right-wing ideologies and superstitions ar a scale never seen before.

What makes the Kerala model of development interesting is the fact that it can facilitate this quality of life for its people even with such a GDP of 3200 USD per capita. Recently Kerala has declared that access to the internet as basic right!

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About the author

Juergen T Steinmetz

Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1977).
He founded eTurboNews in 1999 as the first online newsletter for the global travel tourism industry.

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