Kerala’s Covid-19 response: First person account by a visiting non-resident Malayali

kerala model healthcare
Lakhs of Malayalis are making a beeline for their home state amid the most severe global health emergency in more than 100 years.

By Sajan Gopalan

Kerala is among the few Indian states that withstood the onslaught of Covid-19 so far. Its robust public health system is now under tremendous pressure from the influx of Malayalis from different parts of the world. Such concerns do not deter thousands like me from making a beeline for the state amid the most severe global health emergency in more than 100 years.

I arrived in Kerala on an Indigo flight from Delhi at 8 pm on June 13 Saturday along with my wife Bindu and our two sons. I never thought that a short trip home from Delhi could be so fascinating and exciting. Our photos with face shields and other protective gear created a lot of curiosity among those who saw them in social media. We started receiving calls on our way from the airport from people enquiring about the journey. There has been much anxiety about the mandatory processes we had to undergo before and during our journey home.

This note may be useful for Malayalis who plan to travel to Kerala and non-Malayalis who want to understand how Kerala is tackling the coronavirus disease. The endeavour is to help people understand the processes put in place by the Kerala government to ensure that the spread of the pandemic doesn’t stretch the capacity of the state’s healthcare infrastructure.

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The first step of the journey is booking the flight ticket that comes with the seat number. We booked our ticket for Indigo’s afternoon flight. The next step is to acquire your domestic travel permit from Kerala government’s Covid Jagratha portal. You need to fill in details such as the current address, destination address, flight details along with seat numbers and other passenger details while applying for the pass. You must have the municipality/ village panchayat ward number handy while applying. Your e-pass will be messaged to you within four hours of submitting the application.

Every e-pass has a unique number. Our number was 492056. The numbering system is very important as it is through this number that you are being traced in Kerala. Tracing of each visitor is an important step in the process of quarantining, testing and treating, which is key to the protocol established by the state government.

The importance of the e-pass became evident when we received the first phone call from the health department in Thodupuzha town. Manju, a health inspector, called us and collected all details about the travellers including their age, health condition, place of residence and the plan for quarantine.

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We had given our destination as Dhanwanthari Sadanam, Thodupuzha. The very next day people at the address received calls from the police department, corporation office and health department. Even though the address was in the town area, we were planning our quarantine in a secluded house at Manacaud Panchayath, roughly 6 km from Thodupuzha town. All these details were given to the three departments.

Going in for web check-in will make life easier. While doing so you need all relevant papers and the e-pass. We commenced our journey from our Mayur Vihar Phase 1 home in Delhi in the morning of June 13. The taxi operator provided us with an Innova in which four people can travel. We reached the Delhi airport almost three hours prior to the departure. Travel documents and temperature were checked at the airport entrance. Indigo staff reminded travellers to Kochi that the e-pass is mandatory for travel to Kerala.

The flight crew provided a face shield, PPEs and sanitizer bottles along with the mask. The flight was full and there was no possibility of observing social distancing. Even though it was informed that Arogya Setu App of the central government was mandatory for travellers, it was not checked at any point of the journey. We carried our own food and water during travel.

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There was a help desk at the Kochi airport where travellers need to register with e-passes. Your temperature is monitored before you are allowed to move on to the pre-paid taxi counter. All cars have the driver’s cabin sealed off.

We called Manju, the health inspector, to inform her that we have reached Kerala and are proceeding to Thodupuzha. We reached our quarantine destination by 9 pm. It was a refreshing feel to be back home. There was a drizzle and cold breeze from the river adjacent to the house. Our quarantine home is situated in a two and half acre plantation, far removed from the crowded town. There aren’t many houses nearby and hence ideally suited for quarantine.

Next morning, we received a call from junior health inspector Mahesh who sought details to ensure that we are properly quarantined. He gave us one more number in case we need any help. He told us not to venture out of the house and also that he will visit us in the evening. The next call was from Nisha, counsellor at Idukki health centre, to enquire whether we have any issues including stress. Manju made a courtesy call again. Next call was from Sujatha, the Panchayat ward member, offering help during quarantine. We got a call from the Ayurveda clinic, offering us free medicines.

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Junior health inspectors Mahesh and Sumesh came to visit the place to have a detailed verification. They parked their bike at a distance and came walking and ensured social distancing. They gave us specific instructions about what to do and what not to. Better not to go out of the veranda as it can upset the neighbours. If anyone takes ill during the quarantine, the immediate area is declared a hotspot and this can create difficulties for neighbours.

The young officers were proud of the system in Kerala. There are two types of quarantine in Kerala, they explained. One is home quarantine like ours. Then there is a government arranged quarantine for which one has to pay. People can choose the facilities as per their financial capability. Free quarantine is given to people who cannot afford to pay.

There is a ward level jagratha team that monitors all these activities. The ward team includes the ward member, representatives of health the department, revenue department, Panchayath and the police. There are representatives from the agriculture and animal husbandry department as well. They all work together to ensure that people in quarantine are properly taken care of. They narrated an incident where two people of a house got infected and there was no one to take care of their four cows. The animal husbandry department ensured that a livestock assistant was posted to take care of the animals and cattle feed was supplied free.

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In the last one month more than three lakh people came back to Kerala and they are all being monitored by the system. Behind the efficiency of the system is the wide network of decentralised administrative machinery. There are more than 1,200 local self-governments or Panchayati raj institutions in Kerala and more than 10,000 wards. This system is used to monitor and manage the arrival of people into each ward with the help of the state’s three lakh strong volunteer corps. Our panchayat had more than 150 confirmed cases in the beginning, but the number is just about 50.

Kerala has a long history of decentralised governance starting with the People’s Plan in 1996 when it was decided to devolve 36-40 per cent of the plan fund to the Panchayati Raj institutions. The state has been able to contain the spread of the pandemic better than many other states and the credit should go to the protocol developed by the health department and the implementation through the system of decentralised governance.

The state government has a Covid-19 dashboard that gives all details regarding the spread of the disease and the latest statistics. As per the latest data, Kerala has 2795 confirmed cases, of which 1413 are active cases. There have been 22 deaths so far which is only 0.74% of the total cases.

It feels good to be in Kerala. You can feel the presence of a well-oiled government machinery that gives you immense confidence. As an esteemed anthropologist once said, “Life is a little better in Kerala.”

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