As of April 5, Kerala had sent 10221 samples for testing, the most by any Indian state; 9300 returned negative and 256 positive cases were under treatment. About 58 have been cured. Kerala has more suicides, nine, by non-availability of liquor than Covid-19 which has claimed two lives. Being the state with the highest per capita consumption of liquor, the suicides are not surprising. There are helpline numbers and online services of doctors and counsellors to address withdrawal issues for alcoholics.
Unlike during the time when the floods that devastated the state, people now are expected to do nothing but sit at home. Social media is flooded with posts of boredom, especially from men. A large number who were actively involved in flood related relief operations want to do voluntary work but the chief minster’s call for registering volunteers in the government portal had an age limit of 40. It left many disappointed. “The CM is 76 and he is working round the clock, why are we excluded then?” asked one person on social media. There are cases of police atrocities in which even people going out for genuine needs were being roughed up. The chief minister had promptly responded to such incidents by ordering departmental investigations. Action has been initiated against one superintendent of police caught on camera making three men do squats for violating the lockdown. According to the Deputy Director of Police Media Centre, 20142 cases have been registered for violating lockdown rules, 20444 persons arrested and 14075 vehicles seized up to April 5.
Feminists are commenting that the lockdown is only making men experience what has been a regular feature of women’s lives. “What is the big deal? Women have been experiencing ‘lockdown’ at homes imposed by patriarchy for centuries. Now this is the turn of men,” says S Saradakutty, author and social activist. Meera Mohan, a feminist activist and scholar says it is good for men to get a taste of being forced to give an ‘affidavit’ for going out, as the police have been demanding. “Women are supposed to give ‘affidavits’ to the men in the family, husband or father, on the place, purpose, expected time of arrival etc even otherwise. Some husbands would even find their ‘route maps’. Now men are feeling the heat and they can’t bear it,” she says.
While the middle class are busy posting pictures of new dishes they cook, the government through local bodies have reached out to people who are hungry. Till March 30, 1213 community kitchens were functioning in 1031 of the 1034 local bodies in the state. Around two lakhs people are being served free food in addition to uncooked material being provided to those in need. Special focus is given for migrant labour; 8403 labour camps are open for two lakhs workers from various states. There are exclusive helpline numbers for them and community kitchens also prepare north Indian food to suit their taste. In some places, if unable to cope with local cooked fare, migrant labourers have been provided with groceries to prepare food of their choice.
The chief minister’s daily press briefing assures that community spread has not yet started in Kerala. A clear picture of the spread—the number of new cases, whether they are returnees from abroad or their primary or secondary contacts—is given. So far there has been no single positive case in which the health department is clueless about the root.
There are stories of survival and hope. An elderly couple in Pathanamthitta district, 93-year-old Thomas and 88-year-old, Mariyamma recovered and returned to their home. They were infected from their son and family who returned from Italy in March first week. Five members in the family tested positive. Both the elderly couple suffered from age related ailments, including diabetes and hypertension, and were under critical care. Thomas’ health condition deteriorated at one point as he had heart disease too. “They were shifted to VIP ICUs separately, but both were unhappy and emotionally unstable. Then we shifted to them to an ICU where they could see each other,” K K Shailaja, the state’s health minister wrote on Facebook. Health workers with the help of the fire services personnel disinfected their house before they returned. They were given a warm farewell by doctors, nurses and other paramedical staff in the medical college.
Though the curve of the spread has not yet started coming down, there are early signs of triumph. On March 28, the number of new cases was only six, but the very next day it shot up to 20. On March 30, it was 32 but the next day saw a steep drop to 7. The total number of positive cases on April 1 and 2 were 24 and 21 respectively. From April 3 onwards, there is no large fluctuation in the number of positive cases, but there is a considerable increase in the number of survivors. On April 3, new cases were 9 and the next day only 11. On April 5 and 6, new cases reported were 8 and 13 respectively. It is too early to predict whether Kerala would successfully win the battle as it had in 2018 and 2019 against the Nipah outbreak marking the lowest death toll in that virus’ history in the world. Keralites hope that life would come back to normal once the lockdown ends with minimum fatalties.