Kerala government to increase COVID-19 testing, to depend more on RT-PCR test and ensure protocols are followed

Published : January 28, 2021 20:22 IST

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Photo: S. Mahinsha

The Kerala government has called for extreme caution and stricter enforcement of COVID-19 protocols in the context of a dramatic increase in the daily COVID-19 caseload in the State.

The government said easing of restrictions in general and relaxed vigil had led to increasing spread of the pandemic and warned that the COVID-19 situation in the State, where the density of population is very high, was likely to become very serious if people failed to follow regulations.

The warning has come even as cinema halls and educational institutions are being reopened, large crowds are again becoming the norm at places of worship and weddings and other celebrations, the temple festival season is just round the corner, and political parties are gearing up for the Assembly election due in April.

A COVID-19 review meeting held under the chairmanship of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on January 27 decided to increase the number of COVID-19 tests being conducted daily in the State and to depend more on RT-PCR tests rather than on the less reliable rapid antigen tests that now account for 80 per cent of the total tests being conducted.

With more than 45 per cent of India’s daily new cases of COVID-19 being reported in Kerala, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan directed the State Health Department to double the number of tests being conducted to one lakh a day and to ensure that 75 per cent of the tests are RTPCR tests. In the past few days, the test positivity rate (TPR) was over 10 per cent in nine of the 14 districts of the State, which was much higher than that in other parts of India.

Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said on Thursday in New Delhi that 70 per cent of the total COVID-19 cases in India were now in two States, Maharashtra and Kerala. Karnataka and Tamil Nadu had slightly more than 500 cases a day, and in the rest of the country there were only fewer than 500 cases a day. There were 147 districts in India that had not seen any COVID-19 case in the last seven days, 18 districts had not seen a case in the past 14 days, six districts had not seen a case in the last 21 days and 21 districts had no cases reported in the last 28 days. However, the total number of cases in Maharashtra was 2,013,353 and in Kerala it was 8,99,932, the Minister said.

On January 28, the total number of confirmed cases in Kerala were 9,05,591, with 72,234 of them being active cases. Only 3,663 deaths have been reported in the State in nearly a year after the first case was reported, accounting for just 0.4 per cent of the total confirmed cases. State health officials said that even though the case load was increasing, ICU occupancy was only 50 per cent and only 15 per cent of ventilators were being used, a result of the strategy adopted by the State to “delay the peak”.

The government also announced that a study conducted by the Community Medicine Department of Thiruvananthapuram Medical College, showed that 56 per cent of COVID-19 patients contracted the disease at home, from infected people who came from outside. Twenty per cent of the people got the infections from markets, shopping malls and restaurants and 20 per cent from work places. Failure to follow social distancing norms was the reason for contracting the infection in 65 per cent of the cases; 45 per cent had failed to wear a mask. Thirty per cent of the patients got the infection from asymptomatic patients. Five per cent of children contracted COVID-19 from schools; but 45 per cent of them got the infection from their homes.

The government said following protocol would be compulsory while organising public functions, social distancing norms and wearing of masks would become essential, and gathering of more than 100 people at weddings and other celebrations would not be allowed. All those staying at migrant labour camps, working together in places like cashew factories and those in old-age homes would be tested. It has been decided to deploy the police to ensure compliance. The police would help the sectoral magistrates appointed to monitor the situation. In the local bodies, the ward-level COVID-19 prevention committees would be reorganised under the leadership of the newly elected ward representatives. District panchayat presidents too would be included in COVID-19 prevention activities.

The government said that even though the regulations would be applied strictly, they would not be a hindrance to those engaged in work or other livelihood activities. The State government’s effort is to effectively curb the spread of the pandemic by mid-February, an official press statement said.