03/02/2020 5:44 PM IST | Updated 04/02/2020 10:39 AM IST

Coronavirus In India: Why Kerala Govt Declared The Epidemic A 'State Calamity'

The three confirmed cases in Kerala are students who returned from Wuhan in China in January.

A man wearing a surgical mask makes a child wear one outside the government general hospital where a student who had been in Wuhan is kept in isolation in Thrissur, Kerala, Jan. 30, 2020.

The Kerala government declared the coronavirus epidemic a “state calamity” after a third case was confirmed in the state on Monday.

All three confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in India have been reported in Kerala.

The move was to take all necessary steps to ensure that the outbreak is effectively controlled, Kerala’s health minister KK Shailaja told reporters on Monday night.

Principal Health Secretary Rajan Khobragade said with the declaration of the situation in Kerala as a “calamity”, the entire state machinery will gear up to face the situation and medical officers on leave would have to report for duty.

The decision was taken at an apex committee meeting of the State Disaster Management Authority chaired by Chief Secretary Tom Jose.

Minister Shailaja, who was also at the helm’s of the state’s response to the 2018 Nipah virus outbreak, said the government was fully prepared to handle cases in the state and had stepped up vigil.

The state government has also set up a distress helpline for people seeking medical support — 0471-2552056.

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The 3 cases in Kerala

India’s first coronavirus case was reported from Thrissur in Kerala on Thursday, January 30, after a woman medical student who had returned from Wuhan tested positive for the infection. The student is being treated at an isolation ward in Thrissur Medical College.

According to the Hindustan Times, the woman had cleared the screening with thermal imaging at Kolkata and Kochi airports and developed symptoms of flu and throat pain only on January 27. She was then rushed to an isolation ward at the general hospital.

On Sunday, February 2, the state confirmed a second case of the novel coronavirus with another person, who had recently returned from China, testing positive for the infection. He was being treated at an isolation ward in Alappuzha Medical College.

The third novel coronavirus case was confirmed on Monday. This time a medical student, who is in an isolation ward at Kanhangad district hospital in Kasaragod, Health Minister KK Shailaja informed the state assembly.

The condition of all three patients is said to be “satisfactory”.

The health department has identified 82 people who had come in contact with the three positive patients.

As many as 40 are from Thrissur and rest from other districts. “Some of them are in isolation, others are in home quarantine,” Shailaja  said.

Out of the 104 samples sent for testing till Sunday, three had tested positive and 46 tested positive, the minister said.

WHO has declared the novel coronavirus a public health emergency. 

* The total number of deaths from the coronavirus epidemic in China rose to 361 as of February 2, up 57 from the previous day, the National Health Commission said.

* The number of new confirmed infections in China rose by 2,829 on Sunday, bringing the total to 17,205.

* At least another 171 cases have been reported in Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Russia, Spain, Thailand, the United States and 14 other countries and regions outside mainland China.

A state of quarantine

The Kerala government has directed people who have returned from China after January 1 to visit government hospitals.

The health minister said such people must inform the health department because they have to be quarantined at home or 28 days.

“We would like to keep them under quarantine for double the duration of incubation period of the virus. We have followed the same protocol earlier during the Nipah, chikungunya and H1N1 outbreak,” the minister said.

The people under observation are directed not to interact with other members of the household, use separate utensils and toiletries, stay away from public functions and not participate in any event during this period. 

Kerala government had put a total of 2,239 people who had travelled to China and other affected countries under observation.

While 84 people are under observation in isolation wards in different hospital across the state, the others are under home quarantine, a health ministry medical bulletin said.

With the coronavirus declared a state calamity, the health department will not wait for any positive results to come out and all districts will initiate action with the same seriousness.

Shailaja said the health department has assigned 178 counsellors as part of its “psycho-social service” to talk to those under observation and to their families. “Till now around 372 people have been given counselling.

Those who remain under observation and home quarantine are doing a great job for society. We should be thankful to them. All the 2,239 persons under observation came to us directly saying they came from China,” minister said.

The state government requested and received permission on Sunday to begin testing samples at the National Institute of Virology in Alappuzha instead of sending samples for testing to the NIV in Pune. This is expected to help fasten the process of getting test results.

The Kerala health minister said they had started the process of identifying people who may have come in contact the virus-infected patients. She said police were helping in the process.

Government and private hospitals have been setting up isolation wards to arrange the maximum number of beds to meet contingencies, the minister said.

Manorama has a list of hospitals equipped to deal with coronavirus cases in Kerala. 

The government is also keeping a check on people spreading false information about coronavirus on social media.

Tackling the Nipah outbreak in 2018

The Nipah virus outbreak in 2018 had killed 17 people in Kerala. The brain-damaging virus, which has a 70% mortality rate and no vaccine, created a public health crisis in the state. The state’s healthcare system was credited with responding fast and containing the spread of the virus.

In 2019, when the virus showed up again, a protocol was already in place to respond to the outbreak. No deaths were reported this time.