KOCHI: As India overtook Russia and became the nation with the third most number of COVID-19 cases, Lakshadweep, the archipelago of 36 islands, seems to have cracked the code to tackle the virus, at least for now. The islands, the country’s smallest Union Territory with a population of about 64,000 and lying about 380 km off Kochi, has the rare distinction of becoming the only region under the Indian jurisdiction where not even a single case of COVID-19 has been reported till now.
The way Lakshadweep Islands resisted the pandemic -- more than five months after India reported its first coronavirus patient -- is a story of meticulous tracking and executing a well-planned routine to the last detail. T Kassim, deputy collector, Kavaratti, said more than 1,000 people had gone to the mainland for treatment purposes, and their return was planned in a well charted-out manner. For instance, only the natives of Lakshadweep were allowed to return while the administration closed the doors on outsiders such as tourists.
“Even for the residents, what we have done is strict quarantine for seven days at the government guest house in Kochi. After seven days, they will be tested for COVID. Only those testing negative will be allowed to board the ship (to the island),” said Kassim. On reaching Lakshadweep, the people will also be strictly monitored during the 14 days of home quarantine. “Since the population is small, we can manage this relatively easily,” he said.
“We have also provided free food, costing `260/packet, to those without means, including migrant workers on the island, three times a day,” said Kassim. Over 6,000 migrant workers have returned from Lakshadweep to their home states when the lockdown was eased.
However, they will not be allowed an entry back till the administration deems it fully safe. Shakeel Ahmed, deputy director, Directorate of Port Shipping and Aviation, Lakshadweep, said after the lockdown was eased, about 70-80 trips may have been operated to and from the island. “The visitors and tourists who were on the island used the trips to return to the mainland,” said Ahmed. Kassim said the government guest house in Kavaratti has also been turned into a 20- bed COVID centre, which will be used for those who may test positive in future.
“In fact, there are facilities for emergencies on each of the 10 islands,” he said. While well over 1,000 residents have returned to the island, Kassim said there could be another 200-300 people in Kochi and other parts who are expected to come back in the coming days. “Two ships come to Lakshadweep from Kochi every week. These are being operated mostly for bringing essential supplies to the island,” he said. However, those who want to return could also come via the ships, but after strictly following the COVID protocol.
The islands, the country’s smallest Union Territory with a population of about 64,000 and lying about 380 km off Kochi, has the rare distinction of becoming the only region under the Indian jurisdiction where not even a single case of COVID-19 has been reported till now.