While the entire country is in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic, Kerala perhaps is the only state that moved from the first wave to the second with little gap between the two. That the state didn’t have time to relax is probably the reason why it seems better equipped to handle the deadlier second wave than many other states at the moment. Its ICU occupancy is below 10% and oxygen supply more than double the current requirement. Its vaccination record too is better than many of the bigger states, having vaccinated more than 16% of the general population and 41% of the 45-plus one with at least one dose.
However, the situation could soon change for the worse given the speed at which the infection is spreading. Kerala has been consistently clocking a double-digit growth in daily cases in the last few days. The state has a large vulnerable population tightly packed together and it will no doubt have to pay the price for letting its guard down. The recent Assembly polls, during which the pandemic-related restrictions were largely ignored, should be considered a superspreader event.
The state administration must act quickly and decisively to prevent the crisis from deepening. It must find ways to accelerate the vaccination programme while effectively enforcing containment measures to limit the spread of the virus. The tussle with the Centre over pricing and procurement formalities cannot be allowed to hold up the vaccination drive. While the Pinarayi Vijayan government’s decision to procure vaccines directly from manufacturers is timely, its generous promise of making them available to the public free of cost seems unwise and may prove to be counterproductive.
Given the moderate pricing of the vaccines, letting those who can afford to pay for the jab do so would speed up the whole process. It’s also time to impose more curbs to avoid crowding. Public functions need to be stopped immediately. The government can also consider shutting down malls, markets, theatres and parks for some time. All these will help the state avoid a situation where it may be forced to go for a total lockdown.