Recent data from Kerala seems to indicate that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, and his Communist government, may once again be bungling their management of the Wuhan Virus epidemic. Here are the facts:
First, believe it or not, testing took a holiday for Onam, with some districts in Kerala reporting nil results on 31 August.
These include the precariously poised districts of Palakkad, Kozhikode, and Malappuram.
Why that happened, is a question which Pinarayi Vijayan must answer.
Why that question is not being asked by the local press or Opposition, is Congress-Marxist politics in a nutshell.
Second, the three districts of Palakkad, Kozhikode, and Malappuram have, in addition, reported in the past week.
This points directly to an unacceptably haphazard manner of functioning, which in turn generates potential inferences of disorderly planning, administrative sloth, or executive cluelessness.
A daily testing chart of the three districts is placed below as proof:
Third, positivity in Kerala has been rising consistently, and in an alarming fashion, under Pinarayi Vijayan’s command, exactly when positivity is either plateauing, or declining consistently, in many other large states.
A chart below shows this; positivity is the orange curve. While the current figure of 4.5 per cent may seem low compared to the national average of 8 per cent, or higher values in a few states, the difference is that in Kerala, positivity has been rising consistently in spite of rising testing, for well over two months now. This is not a healthy trend.
Fourth, the positivity levels in Malappuram district are that of the state average — and rising.
On date, Kerala positivity is 4.5 per cent and Malappuram positivity is 8.3 per cent.
This disquieting trend is exacerbated by an allied absurdity — daily case counts and testing rates have dropped (and fluctuated wildly), while positivity has risen.
This makes no sense whatsoever; the rate of growth of cases may reduce with lower levels of testing, but the rate of growth cannot reduce when positivity is rising.
It’s like saying a fisherman will find more fish the farther he sails from shore, but with water depths reducing, instead of increasing!
Fifth, the instantaneous positivity in Malappuram is rather disturbing (This is confirmed cases by total samples tested for each date).
Kerala has started issuing district-wise testing data only since late August, but already, we see that the instantaneous positivity in Malappuram district touched an alarming high of nearly 18 per cent on 26 August (that means almost one in five people are corona-positive).
Since then, discounting data troughs, and dates when no data was reported, we see that the district’s instantaneous positivity has actually risen again in early September.
Combined with the district’s massive upward deviation from the state positivity average, a depressing inference is that the current situation in Malappuram is probably underestimated by a fair bit.
This will have major consequences on the situation in the bordering districts of Palakkad, Thrissur, Wayanad and Kozhikode, if it is not tackled appropriately.
Again, data proof is the chart placed below; note where the maroon Malappuram curve is:
Sixth, testing levels in the state nosedived from a brief high of 40,000 tests a day, to less than half at the start of September.
The Kerala government may defend itself by saying this was a temporary blip, and ramp testing back up to 40,000 a day, but that week of a trough at such a crucial juncture, means a week for further transmission of the virus without detection.
The dip of the purple testing curve in Chart 2 shows this grave lapse clearly.
The conclusions are not appealing: there is no consistency discernible from the Kerala government’s epidemic data.
Too much uncertainty abounds, and public suspicions are rising on the official epidemic figures being issued.
One day, testing spikes in a district; the next day, case counts in that district fall to a miniscule fraction of the previous day.
The day after, testing falls further, but cases register new peaks.
For example, Pathanamthitta district reported 104 cases on 23 August, 6 the next day, and 93 the day after.
Similarly, Palakkad district reported nil tests on 27 and 28 August, 3,139 tests on 29 August, and 818 tests on 30 August.
From a managerial standpoint, such waywardness and erosion of official credibility is wholly unwelcome during a crisis. Consequently, there are four aspects going forward:
One, if there is a problem in Malappuram district, then so be it. Let Vijayan admit that publicly and do the needful.
He and his Marxists are not going to lose the Muslim vote merely because they tried to do their best to eradicate this pestilence.
This is no time for secularism.
Two, Pinarayi Vijayan is well advised to junk his much-vaunted ‘Kerala Model’ approach immediately, and reset his priorities.
Indeed, if his Finance Minister, Dr. Thomas Isaac, could take time out on Onam to tweet deeply offensive remarks about Hindu gods (Isaac referred to Vamana, the fifth avatar of Vishnu, as a cheater), surely Pinarayi Vijayan could have found the time to ensure that there was no slackening of testing during the festival break.
Three, if things continue like this, the Central government may need to urgently crack the whip on Pinarayi Vijayan’s bungling ways, and ensure that testing, tracing and isolation are enforced in a sustained, organised manner across all districts.
No doubt, there will be the usual manufactured outcry and outrage, from the usual quarters, but beyond a point, the safety of 35 million Indian citizens cannot be left to the incompetence of those who place public image over public administration.
And finally, fourth, the easiest alternative is for Pinarayi Vijayan to do his sworn duty, and ensure that testing levels in Kerala are raised to over 50,000 tests a day, consistently, across all districts in a proportional manner.
If so, he must know that he will have to strictly maintain these baselines without excuse, until positivity levels in the state first start declining, and then continue on a sustained, declining trend to at least under 2 per cent.
Anything less would be a gross abdication of constitutional responsibility.
For his information, states like Bihar, Telangana, Gujarat and Delhi have shown that such turnarounds can be effected within three weeks.
Will Pinarayi Vijayan do that, or will he continue to stay wedded in delusion to his failed ‘Kerala Model’, and put more Malayalee lives at risk? Only time will tell.
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