The extended lockdown introduced from May 8 has contained the steep rise in COVID-19 cases in Kerala, but COVID-related deaths continue to increase each day, and hospital admissions remain high, with many patients requiring extended intensive care unit (ICU) and ventilator support.
State health authorities said that this situation was an expected outcome of the sharp increase in COVID cases in early May and a result of the severity of the new strains of the virus, adding that it was likely to continue for a few more weeks. They pointed out that the death rate has remained between 0.3 per cent and 0.4 per cent and was one of the lowest in the country.
After a high-level review meeting held on May 26, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that although the spread of the pandemic was being curbed, it was not yet time to relax. He said: “It is a matter of relief indeed that the number of new infections is lower than the number of those recovering from the disease every day. The reduction in number of total cases is a result of the creative cooperation extended by the people to the restrictions imposed by the government. But the situation does not permit any laxity on our part.”
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He added: “The number of people under treatment in hospitals is yet to come down. The rush for ICU beds and ventilators we are experiencing now is likely to continue for some more days. Our effort should be to keep that number low, so that hospital facilities are not overwhelmed. That is the most important safeguard that would help save more lives.”
Fall in TPR, cases
For the first time in 34 days, the test positivity rate (TPR) in the State went below 20 per cent (19.5 per cent) on May 26. It had touched a high of nearly 30 per cent on May 12, with many panchayats recording a TPR of over 50 per cent. The trend of high TPR rates continues in several districts, and health experts are not yet ready to declare that the second wave has peaked.
The nearly 4.5 lakh active COVID cases on May 15 was the highest daily tally reported during the second wave. The number of active cases fell gradually thereafter and was just over 2.5 lakh on May 25.
However, the number of daily deaths has been rising steadily. On April 1, for instance, there were 26,201 active cases and 11 deaths; by May 25, there were 2,55,406 active cases and 196 deaths. Until May 26, a total of 7,882 COVID patients had died in Kerala, according to the State government and unconfirmed reports suggest it could be a gross underestimation.
The State government has announced that ‘triple lockdown’ restrictions would be withdrawn from all districts except Malappuram from May 23, but the general lockdown across the State will continue until May 30.
Even after the first 16 days of triple lockdown in Malappuram district, the number of fresh infections as well as the TPR continue to be high. District health authorities said that most of the new patients were getting infected from their own homes and the spread was high because there were many joint families in the district.
Another worrying facet of the emerging COVID-19 situation in Kerala was the acute scarcity of vaccines in the State, a result of faulty policies and inconsistent supply by the Central government, which is hindering the State’s ambitious plans to “vaccinate all its people as quickly as possible”.
As per the ‘daily vaccination count’ data released by the State government, 1,48,188 doses were administered on a single day on March 18, when vaccinations began in the State; 2,64,869 doses were administered on April 2 at the peak of the vacation drive. However, since then the figure has come down drastically, touching 5,941 doses on May 23, the lowest in the month.
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Owing to the policies the State hasadopted from the onset of the pandemic in January 2020, a predominant proportion of Kerala’s (projected) population of 3.54 crore remains unexposed to the virus. But, as on May 24, the total vaccine stock available in Kerala was only 12,51,430 doses. This included a supply of 4,17,050 doses from the Government of India (for the 45-plus age group) in the following order: 1,550 doses of Covaxin;3,82,560 doses of Covishield; and 32,940 doses of vaccines in transit. In addition, a total of 8,34,380 vaccine doses were in stock from what was procured by the State government for the 18-45 age group (1,24,520 doses of Covaxin; 6,44,020 doses of Covishield; and 65,840 doses of vaccines in transit).
On the issue of vaccine scarcity, the Chief Minister said: “It is indeed a cause for concern that the Central government is maintaining a silence on when it will provide the required doses of vaccines for those above 45 in the State. We again ask the Centre to take immediate steps. In addition, Kerala is trying to buy vaccines for those between the ages of 18 and 45, for whom the Centre is refusing to provide free supply. I have written a letter to the Prime Minister pointing out that the right thing for the Government of India to do would be first to ascertain the exact requirement of each State and float a single global tender, so that all States may get vaccines at a cheaper price than what would be available if they go it alone.”