Over six months after India’s first Covid-19 patient was reported from Kerala, the state’s caseload continues to grow at 4.01 per cent per day — much faster than the national rate. While the number of confirmed cases has grown almost four times in the last one month alone, State Health Minister K K Shailaja, 63, has been much praised for leading the state’s measures against the pandemic from the front. As Kerala looks set to witness a sharp rise in cases in August and September, with daily infections expected to cross 10,000, here’s how the minister is staying safe while on the job.
What precautions do you take to stay Covid-free?
I follow all the guidelines that I urge other people to follow. Since we have launched the ‘Break the Chain’ programme, I am very particular about not flouting any protocol. I maintain physical distance, wear mask, wash my hands and use hand sanitiser frequently.
I don’t remove my mask even when I am sitting alone in office. I take extra care to maintain a two-metre distance when I talk to people. But still, you never know, you can contract the virus from anywhere.
Have you got yourself tested for Covid-19?
Not yet. I have not had any symptoms so far.
Have you had to isolate yourself? What was your routine like then?
Once, I had to be in self-isolation at my official residence for four days. A person who had served us tea at a function had come in contact with a Covid-19 patient. I then worked from home and attended meetings online. I washed my plates and glasses myself. Later, the Covid suspect tested negative and I returned to work.
What kind of gloves and mask do you use?
I don’t wear gloves, I prefer using sanitiser. At home and office, I use a three-layered cloth mask. When I visit hospitals or containment zones, I wear the N95 mask.
While interacting with people at work, what precautions do you take?
I had 25 staff members at office, but since the pandemic hit, only half of them have been coming. The office is sanitised every day. While holding daily meetings with the health secretary and health director in person, I practise social distancing. The meetings with the district authorities are conducted online after 7 pm and can go on till 10 pm.
How long have you gone without seeing your family?
Earlier, I used to go home (to Kannur) every Friday and return to Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday evening. Since the pandemic struck, I have visited my family only once, that too after a gap of two-and-a-half months. Now, it has been over two months since I visited them.
Do you take any specific precautions while you travel?
I avoid trains and flights and use my official car for travelling. I cannot afford to fall ill. I feel safe in the car.
How much time do you spend in front of a screen?
That’s a big issue for me now. With online conferences, press conferences and meetings, I end up spending an average of five hours before the screen daily. On some days, my eyes ache. I have consulted a doctor and he has recommended eye drops.
How do you keep your mind off the pandemic?
It’s always on my mind. Even when I go to sleep, I am worried about the number of deaths. I wonder how we will get out of this.
I reach my official residence only after 10 pm and get time to talk to my family around 11 pm. My husband, son, his wife and my two-year-old grand-daughter keep waiting for my call. My grand-daughter shows me her drawings on video calls. Talking to her helps me manage my stress. I talk about household matters with my husband. I also speak to my elder son who lives in Abu Dhabi with his wife and three-year- old son. After that I read newspaper articles and editorials. At times, I watch videos on YouTube. I go to sleep around 12.30-1 am and get up by 6 am, and the cycle begins again.
What is the first thing you want to do when the pandemic is past?
I want to visit all the health workers in Kerala’s 14 districts. I want to hear their concerns in person. I also want to focus on other health projects that have been pending. And, I want to meet my husband and family. That will be the best rest for me.