"Expected This...": Kerala Health Minister On Continuing Covid Infections

Kerala also has a high share of susceptible persons in its population, resulting in higher number of infections, Health Minister Veena George said.

Veena George recently replaced the much-lauded KK Shailaja as Kerala's Health Minister.

New Delhi:

The continuing reportage of a large number of Covid infections in Kerala is part of its strategy in fighting the pandemic and is no cause of alarm, the state's new Health Minister Veena George has said. Overall, infections have plateaued and a similar trend was seen in the first wave, too, according to her. She termed the phenomenon "dragging the wave".

Kerala, along with Maharashtra, now reports the most number of new COVID-19 cases every day, accounting for almost 30 per cent of India's daily tally.

Ms George, who recently replaced the much-lauded KK Shailaja in the role to the surprise of most people, counters suspicions of slippage in caution saying that despite a high share of susceptible persons in the state's population, only 20 per cent or 21 per cent of them may have been infected even now. In the first wave, she said, it was only 11 per cent. She cited a sero surveillence study to make her point.

"The second wave started in our state by the middle of April. We had our peak on May 12 -- that was around 43,000 cases on a single day. And then it went on decreasing. Now it's around 10,000. Now we are having a plateau," Ms George told NDTV in an exclusive interview.

"It was quite expected in our strategy. We have always tried to keep the number of cases below the state's healthcare capacity threshold...We tried to delay the peak and now we are trying to drag the curve."

The Health Minister said that Kerala's test-positivity rate was 10 per cent. Expanding on this, she said if a person in Kerala tests positive for Covid, authorities trace and test his or her primary, secondary, and tertiary contacts.

What happens, thus, is targeted tests and not random testing. That is why, out of the, say, 50 people who have been in contact with the first person, the chances of many of them testing positive is high, leading to the state's overall numbers.

"We are ensuring that no one who has been in contact with the first goes without being reported (if infected)," Ms George said.

"Also, in our state, we have many other challenges. The percentage of senior citizens in the population is very high, as also the number of diabetics. One more thing is population density -- it is double that of the national average."

What's now adding to the state's worries is the reporting of the Zica virus amid the pandemic.

The first case was confirmed yesterday in a 24-year-old pregnant woman. She had delivered on June 7 and both the mother and child were safe, the minister said.

Following this, 19 samples were sent to the National Institute of Virology in Pune which returned 13 positives. However, 14 more that were sent after that have all turned out negative, which indicates that everything was under control, according to Ms George.

"We have intensified the vector-control activities, and we are focusing on the surveillance of pregnant women because the virus may cause some defects to the babies. We have asked all our medical officers to conduct tests for zica in all pregnant women," she said.

Returning to the topic of Covid, she said the only way to ensure the state's population remains safe was inoculation, especially given its number of susceptible persons.

"We have put in our request before the Central government to give us vaccines according to the percentage of the susceptible population and not share of the general population," Ms George said.

"We have negative wastage of vaccines. If with one vial, you vaccinate 10 persons, in Kerala, without any loss, we are doing it for 11 persons."