Don’t go by case count, fatality rate in Kerala one of lowest, say experts

Punjab, which has fewer confirmed cases than Kerala, has a fatality rate of 3.1%
A woman has blood drawn for COVID-19 antibody testing. (File photo | AP)
A woman has blood drawn for COVID-19 antibody testing. (File photo | AP)

KOCHI: Supported by the strong pillars of a robust healthcare system, and with the help of timely implementation of containment strategies, Kerala has stood out among states in the battle against Covid-19 pandemic. Though the number of confirmed cases has seen a sudden surge in the last one month with the third wave of infections rattling the state, the state has so far been effective in limiting the damage in terms of fatality. The state, which recorded 1,066 deaths till Wednesday, has a case fatality ratio of around 0.3%. In comparison, Punjab, which confirmed fewer cases than Kerala, has a fatality rate of 3.1%, the highest in the country. Maharashtra with 2.6% and Gujarat with 2.3% are close behind. 

Experts cite various reasons — from being prepared to tackle the contagion to effective efforts to contain and treat, to the state’s comparatively better healthcare system — for Kerala’s success in keeping the mortality under check. “Even before Covid started affecting the rest of India, Kerala had to handle Covid patients, when students from Wuhan returned home in January-February. Since then, we have been monitoring the scenario world over. Healthcare staff, the government and private hospitals were all ready to address the surge in infections.

Even the lockdown which was imposed in advance was timely and bought us some extra time for preparation,” said one of the members of the State Covid Expert Committee. While the national case fatality ratio is now 1.5%, it never once crossed 0.4% in Kerala. As on Wednesday, it was 0.34%. Among the states, only Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland, which largely remained unaffected by the pandemic, have lower fatality rates. Kerala stands seventh in terms of total confirmed cases but 17th when it comes to Covid death toll.

“Kerala’s healthcare system and infrastructure are superior when compared with that of other states. Even if the cases double in the coming days and weeks, even with our existing facilities, we will not enter a stage where people may die due to lack of ventilators. However, the government should improve and strengthen the testing strategy,” said Rijo M John, health economist. Experts believe Kerala’s timely implementation of  home treatment system for asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic patients, just when cases started peaking, may have also played an important role as it spared  hospital beds for the needy.

Dr Anup R Warrier, infectious disease expert, however, opined that the death rate may go up in the coming weeks as the healthcare system is dealing with a peak in Covid infections. “Hospitals are seeing a peak in the number of patients and beds are likely to get filled in   near future. The condition of infected patients admitted now will be known only in the weeks to come. Only then will we get a clear picture of total fatalities in the state,” he said.

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The New Indian Express