In a country of over 1.15 lakh coronavirus infections, the serene and calm islands of the union territory (UT) of Lakshadweep remain an outlier with no positive cases so far. Nagaland and Sikkim are the two other Covid-free states.
Health officials of the UT, whose 64,000 population is highly dependent on Kerala for their medical needs, attribute the success so far to early preparedness, mandatory testing of its residents and strict quarantine. The achievement is especially remarkable as there had been constant movement of people and essential supplies between Kerala and the islands till mid-March.
“Very early on, we had started restricting the entry of people, beginning with the foreign tourists and then the domestic tourists. We subsequently stopped all passengers. When the lockdown was imposed, the people of Lakshadweep who wanted to come back were all tested for Covid through RT-PCR in Kochi and Mangalore. We brought them back only if they tested negative. All of them tested negative,” said Dr S Sundaravadivelu, the health secretary in Lakshadweep.
It was only rational for the UT authorities to test and treat them in Kerala as the islanders anyway depend on the state for treatment of advanced and critical medical cases. Health officials also utilised the initial few weeks of the lockdown to spread awareness among the remote inhabited parts of the islands about the virus and ramp up health facilities in case of an accidental transmission.
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“We used the usual methods of awareness by employing the ASHA and anganwadi workers to go door-to-door, educating the people about the virus. If they reported fever and other suspected symptoms of Covid, they could call on our helpline. We took samples of some suspected cases and sent them to Kerala. But they came back negative,” he said.
As a double-layer of precaution, those who tested negative and returned from the mainland were subjected to home quarantine for 14 days. Their families were quarantined too.
In the first week of April, a transit accommodation building near the Indira Gandhi Hospital in Kavaratti was converted into a dedicated Covid-19 hospital, complete with isolation beds, ICU beds and ventilators. Quarantine centers were opened in all 11 inhabited islands although they did not need to be put to use. “The facilities were above the norms fixed by the Centre,” the health secretary said.
Of course, it benefited the islands immensely that the state it reaches out to for its health requirements is Kerala – which has a positive track record of fighting viral infections in the past. As seen in the case of Covid-19 too, the state successfully controlled two waves of the infection and is currently in the middle of the third with a death rate of just 1.44%.
“That’s a proven fact (of Kerala’s preparedness). Not just nationally, but even internationally. Since we didn’t have a virology lab to test results, we used to send samples of suspected cases to the Ernakulam Medical College and get it tested there,” said Dr K Shamsudheen, the National Health Mission (NHM) director in Lakshadweep.
In the next few weeks, as lockdown regulations get further relaxed and the islanders prepare to move out to the mainland, authorities are taking cautious steps. School and college students, scheduled to write their exams in Kerala, have to move too.
“We have come up with a protocol on who will be allowed and not (to go out). People needing urgent non-Covid medical care will be sent by ship. In case of acute emergency cases, they will be sent through chopper. Students going to write exams or labourers going to Kerala have to apply for passes through e-jagratha portal. If they get a similar pass from Kerala, they will be allowed to travel,” said Dr S Sundaravadivelu.
“But those coming back have to get tested negative for Covid before boarding the ship,” he added.
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