Indian state pays the price of early success
As Covid-19 swept through India last year, there was one state that was always seen as standing out in its handling of the pandemic.
The “Kerala model” became a byword for success in containing the virus, named after a series of measures introduced early on by the south Indian state, including rigorous, focused testing, containment, community support and contact tracing.
Yet as nationwide India’s Covid cases have fallen to record lows following the devastating second wave in April, Kerala’s cases have consistently remained high since mid-May. Last week, Kerala accounted for almost 70% of India’s new cases and the state’s positivity rate continues to hover around 17%. While there are signs that cases in Kerala are finally tailing off, questions have remained over why the state has remained a hub of the virus. Its persistence has been partly attributed to the low seroprevalence – lack of those with antibodies – thanks to earlier successes in preventing a spread of the virus. A seroprevalence survey carried out in March found that Kerala only had seroprevalence of around 11%, compared with more than 20% nationally. By the end of July, Kerala still had the lowest seroprevalence figures in India with 44% of the population showing antibodies, meaning more than 50% remained vulnerable.
Dr Rajeev Jayadevan, a vicechairman of the Kerala State Indian Medical Association, said that Kerala’s trajectory of Covid had always differed from the rest of the country. “I would describe the situation here as a slow burn, rather than an inferno,” he said
He said it was inaccurate to characterise this as a failure of the Kerala model. Instead, he pointed to Kerala’s high population density as well as humid weather conditions and fatigue among health workers as other reasons.
Even with cases remaining high, the state has not faced the shortage of oxygen or ICU facilities of other states. “Our fatality rate shows our model is on the right track,” the Kerala health minister Veena George told Reuters last month.