What sets Kerala apart from other Indian states

Communist Kerala defies India's Covid trend

When the first symptoms set in, she had only been in the country for a few days. A 20-year-old exchange student noticed a cough and fever after returning from Wuhan at the end of January. The medical student went into self-isolation and was examined. A few days later she became India's "Patient Zero". The following two confirmed cases of infection were also students who had been evacuated from Wuhan to their homeland, Kerala. The state in southern India is considered mobile and relatively wealthy; a large part of the income comes from tourism. It was no accident that the first infections appeared there. Within the next few weeks, the number rose to over a hundred, in March that was more than a fifth of all confirmed cases in India.

But two months later the world looks very different in Kerala: While India reported the highest increase to date within 24 hours and a total of over 67,000 infections over the weekend, the number of infections in Kerala stood at 512 as of Monday. 489 of these are considered recovered , just three people died from the disease. This is the lowest death rate in the country. The state of Kerala has achieved what others envy it for: flattening the corona curve.

Communist government

Kerala is considered a model student on the Indian subcontinent - and a curiosity. Because communist parties have been firmly in the saddle there since the 1950s, and they also repeatedly form the state government. Currently, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijaya of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) heads the local government and can administer many Indian "bests": highest literacy rate, lowest infant mortality rate, 2.9 hospital beds for every 1000 inhabitants, nationwide there are only 0 , 5.

Especially when it comes to health care, the pioneering role goes back a long way into the colonial past. The Maharajah family was vaccinated as early as the 19th century. Since independence, the state has relied on a strong community in matters of education and health. In recent years in particular, the public health sector has been strengthened again after a few years of privatization.

The decisive factor for the success against Corona in Kerala is, above all, the fact that the state only had to solve a similar scenario two years ago. In 2018, the same government that is now at the helm successfully battled Nipah: a bat-transmitted virus.

Hundreds of Covid-19 centers

Health Minister K. K. Shailaja was at the forefront two years ago. Now she is being celebrated in the media as a "corona slayer". A week before "Patient Zero" was confirmed, she had set up a rapid response team. While the lockdown in Wuhan had just begun in mid-January, a staff of bureaucrats and medical staff got to work in Kerala: Over 600 local Covid-19 centers were set up, officials followed the motto: track down transmission chains. A functioning communication right down to the grass roots kept the staff on the same level. Medical staff received broad training, with a focus on their protection. Risk groups had to be quarantined.

The aggressive approach also showed rapid success. After the first cases at the end of January, it was quiet for now. A second wave of infection did not occur until the end of February after a family returning from Italy was overlooked at the airport. Thanks to the iron lockdown policy, the state also got this under control. Under the slogan "Break the Chain", the virus was campaigned down to the lowest local level. Call centers were set up to call people up to see whether they were complying with their forced quarantine - every day. "The police, the tax authorities and the village councils were always ready to act," one bureaucrat told "MIT Technology Review ".

Criticism of the measures was not long in coming. Did the communist government go too far? Fears of a surveillance state grew. The case numbers speak for themselves: Until last week, Chief Minister Vijaya was able to report "no new infections" almost every day. There have only been a few new cases since last week. The country has started to fly migrant workers back from the Arabian Peninsula - in one of the largest repatriation campaigns in the world. Anyone who shows symptoms at the airport is now being tested. Those who are positive have to be in quarantine for 14 days. Kerala had previously set up almost 20,000 camps for internally migrated workers. (Anna Sawerthal, May 12th, 2020)