Kerala Does Not Deserve A Free Pass On Covid; Hubris Has Run Far Ahead Of Outcomes

R Jagannathan

Jul 30, 2021, 11:32 AM | Updated 11:31 AM IST

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. 
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. 
  • It is more than likely that the excessive praise Kerala got for handing the first wave is the reason for laxity on the second.
  • If it deserved high praise for 2020, it deserves to be sent to the boondocks now.
  • Kerala no longer deserves the free pass it gets from our Left-liberal lobby over Covid management. It is currently contributing half of the daily increase in case-loads, and accounts for 38 per cent of active cases (as on the morning of 30 July).

    That is not something a state with some of the best social indicators should be proud of. One cannot but suspect that the state has behaved irresponsibly, even discounting for the recent appeasement of Muslims by relaxing rules for Bakri-Eid.

    The arguments given in favour of Kerala’s superior management of Covid are the following: one, it is testing more and thus its Covid case reports are real and not the result of under-testing; two, its sero-positivity rate is well below the national estimate of 67 per cent at 44 per cent, according to the latest Indian Council of Medical Research survey; despite high case-loads, the state’s healthcare infrastructure has been coping well; and fourth, it is one of the states to have fully vaccinated more than 20 per cent of the population.

    These are valid reasons for patting Kerala on the back, but not good enough. Outcomes matter, not just efforts. The counter-arguments are the following: the current surge is partly due to the lower testing that the state did in the run-up to the assembly elections. Covid cases may have been undercounted in April, when campaigning for the assembly elections was at its peak.

    While the surge in other poll-bound states also was the result of lower testing and poll campaigners ignoring Covid protocols, only Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu got pulled up. Both incidentally were either BJP-ruled or BJP-friendly. As for West Bengal, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah got castigated, but not Mamata Banerjee.

    Also, now that testing is up, the test positivity rate should be coming down, but it is still above 10 per cent in Kerala. And if more of the population is vaccinated, Covid cases should be under greater control by now. But it does not appear to be.

    There are other good reasons to call out Kerala despite its ability to manage Covid.

    First, states with high-quality healthcare systems and literacy levels ought to be held to higher standards of Covid performance than states like Uttar Pradesh. With higher state capacity comes higher responsibility.

    Second, even accounting for far lower testing, the eight core Hindi-belt states of Uttar Pradesh (784), Bihar (481), Jharkhand (259), Uttarakhand (669), Chhattisgarh (2,086), Haryana (712), Madhya Pradesh (130) and Rajasthan (259) account for a total active case-load of just 5,380 between them. Kerala’s active case-load is 28 times that of the Bimaru states (though Haryana does not qualify as Bimaru now).

    Even assuming that barely 10 per cent of the cases are being counted in these states, it would still give us an active caseload of around 53,000 for these eight states. We also need to factor in an assumption that states with weaker healthcare systems may well have citizens with greater immune responses to the virus than the others.

    Not for nothing is the Western world suffering the most from Covid, including fatalities. In short, the better your healthcare, the higher the possibility that ordinary people may be more vulnerable to the virus since immune responses may have gotten rusty.

    Third, there is the question of responsibility to other states. Kerala may be able to handle its case-loads comfortably, but Covid is not going to stay restricted to one state, not with the highly-infectious Delta variant. So, a high number of active cases in Kerala constitute a threat to all neighbouring states too since borders are porous.

    Airports may be demanding negative RT-PCR tests or vaccination certificates, but most people living close to state borders just walk or cycle across, and they are unlikely to be detained effectively.

    It is time to withdraw Kerala’s free pass on Covid management. In fact, it is more than likely that the excessive praise it got for handing the first wave is the reason for laxity on the second. If it deserved high praise for 2020, it deserves to be sent to the boondocks now.

    Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.

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