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Rise in COVID-19 cases in Kerala, low death rates, but third wave threat

While the BJP blames the Kerala government for the rise in COVID to bring on a third wave, hospitals are not overpacked, death rates are low.

The southern Indian state of Kerala accounts for more than half of the country’s new COVID-19 cases and while the second wave seemed to wane off, surprisingly, cases continue to rise in Kerala, though thankfully, the death rates remained low.

In January 2020, Kerala reported India’s first COVID-19 case in a medical student who returned from Wuhan, in China, where the pandemic began.

Kerala Has Done A Remarkable Job in Managing COVID-19

Kerela followed the COVID-19 protocols religiously, testing, tracing, isolating, and working hard at ground level with very powerful networking hospital systems, Kerala brought down its case count admirably well flattening the curve and Kerala managed to control the spread of infection fairly swiftly while the official death count remained low.

Kerala, they say, is testing a lot more people – more than double the people per million compared to the rest of the country. It has kept infection levels in control by fully vaccinating more than 20% of its people and 38% – including 70% of people over 45 years – have received a single jab, much higher than the national average.

So per reports, Kerala appears to be testing widely, reporting cases honestly, vaccinating quickly, and ensuring that hospitals are not overwhelmed. Future waves of infection will not be “as severe as the second wave, given economists pace at which Kerala is vaccinating its population”, says Dr Rijo M John, a health worker, doctor.

Perhaps due to the hot sultry weather, infections rose rapidly during the deadly second wave this summer and soon became a hotspot amid the pandemic wanes in other parts of the country.

With 3% of India’s population, Kerala has been reporting more than half of India’s new cases and Kerala has recorded 3.4 million infections and 16,837 deaths from Covid-19 so far.

“Kerala is testing more, and testing smarter. By tracing contacts to find out real cases, testing is also better targeted,” says Dr. Gagandeep Kang, one of India’s top virologists.

The latest antibody tests survey reveals that only 43% of people above the age of six in Kerala have been exposed to the infection, compared to 68% nationwide.

Then What Led to the Rise in Kerala Cases?

The Delta variant which is breeding in Kerala has caused the new rise.  Also, the recent festive gatherings such as Eid could have sparked off an aggressive storm of the pandemic.

Kerala is at an “early [stage] in runaway exponential growth” in infections, says Dr. Swapneil Parikh, a physician. The highly infectious Delta variant has a much higher viral load and spreads faster, making it difficult to stamp out the infection, he says.

For one, a large number of people remain susceptible to the virus. “This is likely to be driving the pandemic in the state now,” says Prof Gautam Menon, a disease modelling expert.

There is also a risk in “letting people get infected, even while preventing deaths”, says virologist Dr. Shahid Jameel.

Ap to a third of those infected, including asymptomatic patients.

“The hospitalizations and deaths now represent infections from sometime before, so I would not necessarily take solace in the fact that they are low right now,” says Dr. Parikh. The consistently high test positive rate of infections is “still a cause for worry”.

 Fear of a Deadlier Third Wave to Hit India Lurks

Prof Menon says a prolonged pandemic could mean the possibility of more mutations of the virus, leading to the emergence of new and dangerous variants which could spread the disease to the unvaccinated and uninfected people. “This is a time for caution. Kerala’s main focus should be to bring down case numbers.”

Many express the view that Kerala needs to be wiser and more forceful while enforcing strict lockdowns and the southern state has allowed festivals to go ahead, leading to mass gatherings and risks of increased infections. Virologists say Kerala also needs to provide more granular data on targeted testing and increased genome sequencing to find out where the infections are rising the most and to track new variants, which are presently lacking.

India cannot be triumphant too quickly when only 6% of the population is vaccinated.  India should learn not to declare victory over the virus prematurely.  Vaccinations should be increased, but right now, vaccines in many states are dry and the government should enable fast production of vaccines from several pharmaceuticals but unfortunately, the contract to make vaccines is given to only a couple of countries, far too small for such a vast population.

People also need to learn to adapt to short, local lockdowns in the event of the inevitable future spikes of infection. Most epidemiologists predict more waves, given that India is evidently still far away from reaching herd immunity and its vaccination rate remains slow.

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