Covid-19: Kerala will need to take tough decisions

Compulsory licensing of covid-19 vaccines
Compulsory licensing now will be less useful as the companies will take another year to come up with the Covid-19 vaccine as they would have to reverse engineer the product.

The country is facing the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic and Kerala is no exception. The state just witnessed a fiercely-contested Assembly elections and there is a probable election factor to add to the existing three factors for resurgence across the country — new variants with increased infectivity and persistence, crowd behaviour and lack of proper restrictions. Together, all four can create a destructive second wave in Kerala.

The story of Kerala is a unique one when it comes to Covid curves. In the first week of June 2020, Kerala crossed 100 new cases per day, taking it to more than 500 per day by the middle of July and above 1,000 in another week. By the third week of August, the state crossed 2,000 daily cases and crossed 5,000 daily cases in another month (third week of September). In the first week of October 2020, Kerala crossed the 10K per day mark and peaked a week later at 11,755 new cases.

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Covid-19 second wave in Kerala

The state started showing a steady decline from there. Kerala welcomed the new year with around 5,000 new cases per day and reached a nadir of 1,050 cases in mid-March. Technically, the second wave can be from that start point. Our second wave is just a month old and it is already sporting a worrisome growth.

The story of the last two months is graphically presented for ease of understanding. One is a happy sign of steady decline and the other is a worrying one of rapid rise. These two contrasting months are enough to warn us about one thing. The next two months will be a roller coaster ride if we don’t fasten our seatbelts now and go back to the basics.

Ironically, the lead players of the two months are the same — the northern districts of Kasaragod, Kannur and Kozhikode along with the always busy Ernakulam, the commercial capital of the state which is my own district.

On Thursday, the state reported 8126 new cases, a level not seen since October 2020. The current dynamics tells me that the state is going to breach its previous high in another week and may even climb upwards of 15,000 new cases per day in this month itself. Several more districts will be reporting over 1,000 new cases per day from the two we have right now.

Testing rates are quite low now, leading to high test positivity rate (13.45%). This is more than double the prescribed 5%. The state is testing low and missing possibly more than a thousand new cases per day. These missed cases will increase the rate of spread like a vicious circle. Testing needs to be augmented for better control.

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Time to take tough measures

The time has arrived for a second innings for the war on Covid-19. The battle will be tougher this time round. The government needs to bring back restrictions for crowd movements and gatherings. It should probably put restrictions on travel and movement of people during night time. Mask usage has suffered a serious decline in the last two months and there is a need to step up the same.

Vaccination drive is doing reasonably fine, but there is still scope for improvement. Any resistance in vaccine uptake is going to pull the recovery rate down. The government machinery needs to move fast before it is too late. The time is now.

The message is simple — The new strains have four merits to our disadvantage – they are more infectious, more persistent, more lethal and less susceptible to vaccine prevention. The world needs to work extra hard to tackle the new ones with increased vigour. The extra effort can make a huge difference now.

India is closing in on 2,00,000 new cases mark per day, more than double the level during the peak of the first wave. Kerala too can go that way unless something serious is done now. Any laxity will give a tall peak for sure. We have increased to 8 times the lowest level seen a month back which is really a warning by numbers.

The Kerala government and the public needs to take a serious note of the situation. This is the defining moment and there is a need to spread seriousness like last time. One more win and everything will be fine. Spread awareness and save more lives.

(Dr Manu Raj is a paediatrician, clinical researcher and research methodologist based in Kochi. Views are personal.)

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