KOCHI: The onset of Southwest Monsoon is just a month away and the state is fortifying its facilities to contain monsoon diseases while continuing the struggle to flatten the Covid-19 curve. Sharing his thoughts with TNIE, Kerala state expert committee on coronavirus chairman Dr B Ekbal says the state will have to adopt a two-pronged strategy to contain the monsoon diseases without losing the focus on Covid-19. Excerpts.
How long will we have to continue the lockdown and when do you expect the state to return to normalcy?
We have been lifting the lockdown restrictions in phases. This is a pandemic and even if we can’t completely eradicate the disease, we have to ensure that the number of cases is manageable. There are many projections on how many people will contract the disease and how many will need hospital care. We have only limited hospital facilities, so our focus is on avoiding community transmission, reducing the death rate and flattening the curve. The situation is definitely improving.
While Kerala has succeeded in containing the virus transmission, the sudden spike in cases in green zone districts of Kottayam and Idukki has caused concern. How much threatening is the sudden increase in cases in these districts?
Kerala’s biggest disadvantage is our porous borders. The population of Tamil-speaking people in Idukki, Thiruvananthapuram and Palakkad is very high. These people have close contacts with their relatives across the border and they keep commuting across the border regularly. Tamil Nadu is a hotspot in the country and the possibility of transmission is always high. The administration has effectively intervened to overcome the challenge.
The onset of monsoon is just a month away and there will be a spurt of communicable diseases like dengue, H1N1 and viral fever. How do we plan to contain the outbreaks without losing the focus on Covid-19?
It is a daunting task to contain monsoon diseases while battling Covid-19. The departments of Local Self Government, Revenue and Health have discussed the issue and they have chalked out a strategy. The health department has prepared a protocol on dealing with the patients separately. Considering our efficiency in containing outbreaks, I am confident that Kerala will be able to deal with the challenge. Public participation is needed to stop breeding of mosquitoes that spread the diseases.
Efforts are on to bring Keralites stranded in West Asian countries. Is the state prepared to face the challenge as we will have to provide quarantine facilities to thousands?
This is the biggest challenge before the state government as we don’t have a clear picture on how many people will come and what facilities they will need. We have to check the family details of people who have registered for evacuation. If there are elderly people in the family we will have to arrange quarantine facility for the returning person.
The government has made preparations by taking over buildings where patients can be kept in isolation. However, evacuation is easily said than done. There are one crore Indians in West Asia and only a quarter of them are Keralites. The Union government cannot evacuate Keralites alone. The number is huge and the question is how many people will be evacuated.
Though we have only a limited number of Covid positive cases, the threat of community spread is always there. What are the steps taken to avoid community spread?
We decided to conduct random antibody tests to check the chances of community transmission. However, the test kits were found to be faulty. The Hindustan Latex Ltd will be delivering a batch of test kits this week. The Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology has developed a test kit which is expected to get the approval of ICMR within a few days.
Once they get approval, the Centre is planning to go for mass production. The Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology has also developed a kit which is awaiting approval. Once these kits get approval, we will be able to produce 75 lakh kits within a month. So we will be going for a massive random testing drive.
After easing the lockdown restrictions, what steps are being considered to avoid transmission?
We will have to continue social distancing and use of masks even if the restrictions are eased. We have to strengthen reverse quarantine as elderly people are more vulnerable. Senior citizens should avoid venturing out and youngsters who go out will have to use masks within the house also. They will have to keep away from elderly people and ensure personal hygiene. There is no need for panic but we have to be cautious.