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Friday, June 18, 2021

Kerala Covid-19 fight starts bottom up, panchayat leads the way

With Kerala in lockdown as part of a desperate bid to curb the raging second wave, the state’s local self-governing bodies have joined hands with neighbourhood groups and youth organisations, cutting across party lines, to plug the breach.

Written by Shaju Philip | Thiruvananthapuram |
Updated: May 19, 2021 7:27:02 am
Volunteers at Mayyil panchayat in Kannur get ready for the cremation of a coronavirus victim. (Express Photo)

When a dairy farmer tested positive at Melarcode in Palakkad, other farmers in the village got together to ensure that his cattle were not left to starve. At Kuttiattoor in Kannur, 2.5 acres of vegetable cultivation owned by a family that got infected is being looked after by a group of DYFI workers. At Koovappady in Ernakulam, a Congress team disinfects the houses of recovered patients and those who were under quarantine.

With Kerala in lockdown as part of a desperate bid to curb the raging second wave, the state’s local self-governing bodies have joined hands with neighbourhood groups and youth organisations, cutting across party lines, to plug the breach.

They supply food, pulse oximeters, PPE kits, cots and vehicles — all free of cost — and even have volunteers to help with the final rites of those who have succumbed to the pandemic.

This grassroots mobilisation was acknowledged by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on May 8 when he met representatives of local bodies and asked them to take on a bigger role in the battle — from setting up ward-level monitoring committees to creating a local pool of oximeters.

For the hard-pressed state government, officials say, the active support of local bodies has come as a big boost.

“These local bodies have given space for civil society in Covid management. That is what we see in panchayat level war rooms, call centres and domiciliary care centres. Volunteers along with the people’s representatives, panchayat staff and ASHA workers have made the Covid fight a mass movement,’’ said Joy Elamon, director-general, Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA), which has provided training for Covid volunteers in local bodies.

After a month of rapid growth in numbers, during which almost one million new cases were discovered, the daily case count in Kerala is finally coming down.

Yet, the state currently has the third highest caseload in the country, after Maharashtra and Karnataka. With more than 3.6 lakh patients currently sick, it also has the third highest active caseload right now. In the last one month alone, Kerala reported more than 1,600 deaths, which is 25 per cent of all the Covid deaths in the state so far.

On the ground, meanwhile, leading the fight are panchayats like Mayyil in Kannur, which has a population of over 31,000 and an overall caseload of 1,137 with 214 active cases on Tuesday. Mayyil has also recorded nine Covid deaths so far, four of them in the second wave.

This panchayat, with 18 wards, has set up a 24×7 call centre of its own and deployed a Rapid Response Team (RRT) of 140 active volunteers, including college students, youth leaders, daily wagers and taxi drivers.

Apart from the RRTs, every ward has “jagratha committees”, comprising a local panchayat member, ASHA workers, government employees and RRT members. The focus is on monitoring cases, especially those under home quarantine.

“Our call centre is for people to inform us about all their requirements… food, medicine and vehicles to go for Covid tests and vaccination. Three persons have been deployed at the centre to alert RRT teams in each ward on the requests received. The idea is to ensure that people do not come out of their homes for even a minor requirement,’’ Rishna K K, the panchayat president, said.

The response from residents has been overwhelming, according to her.

“The panchayat had only one ambulance at its primary health centre. But when we asked for more vehicles, a local organisation handed over its ambulance and several others their vehicles and taxis,” she said.

Special care is taken in cases of Covid deaths. “Teams for burial or cremation are deputed considering the religion of the victim to ensure that all the rituals are followed,” Rishna said.

And that’s not all.

The panchayat has a domiciliary care centre, which is a quarantine for those who do not have a bathroom-attached isolation option at their homes.

It also has a “people’s hotel”, where a plate of rice and curry costs Rs 20. For Covid patients and those under home quarantine, this “hotel”, run by women members of the poverty alleviation mission Kudumbashree, supplies food free of cost three times a day. “Volunteers in each ward organise home delivery, wearing PPE kits if they are supplying to positive cases,” Rishna said.

At the call centre inside a shopping complex at the bus stand, school teacher Ranil K is among those attending calls. “Every day, we get calls for medicines. By noon, we send a volunteer to purchase the entire list. If the medicines are not locally available, a volunteer is sent to Kannur city,’’ he said.

K K Rijesh, a construction worker, is an RRT volunteer. “We offer help for all kinds of work…cleaning, getting provisions. Many of us are daily wage workers, but we have no complaints about the loss of earnings during the time we volunteer, we are happy doing this,’’ he said.

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