Relaxations in movement during the festival season coupled with people not following COVID guidelines are behind Kerala’s rising TPR and the state accounting for more than half of the country’s virus caseload, medical experts said on Sunday and added that people cannot be made to follow the norms at gunpoint, rather they need to modify their behaviour on their own.
As the festival season has not yet ended, the effect of the relaxations and non-COVID appropriate behaviour by people who ventured out for celebrations and shopping would be seen in the test positivity rate (TPR) which, according to the experts like Dr Amar Fettle and Dr Kannan, is expected to rise further from Saturday’s 17.73 per cent.
“You cannot hold a gun to people’s head and make them follow the guidelines. They need to modify their behaviour on their own,” Dr Fettle, the state nodal officer for COVID-19, said.
From 14.03 per cent on August 16, the TPR has risen steadily to 17.73 on Saturday, August 21.
On Saturday, the number of fresh cases in Kerala were 17,106, almost half of the national total of 34,457 which was reported by the Union Health Ministry on August 21 morning.
On being asked whether such a scenario was due to the easing of restrictions, the experts said that relaxations were necessary as people were cooped indoors for more than a year, since March last year, and also because of the financial crisis being faced by those without a steady income.
Since Kerala had a large population which was not yet infected by COVID-19, the infection rate was bound to increase, that was also a reason for the increase in TPR, they said.
On top of that, the Delta strain of the virus, which is active in the state, was much more virulent than the earlier version which was prevalent during the first wave, and as a result a considerable amount of time would be required to bring the TPR down.
While the state works to bring the numbers down, sufficient medical infrastructure and personnel are in place to handle the rising caseload, and the capacity can be ramped if required, Dr Fettle said.
He said that presently only 40 per cent to 60 per cent of the COVID beds were occupied and not all of the infected persons would require hospitalisation as many among them may have been vaccinated with one or two doses and therefore, the effect of the virus may not be severe on them.
He said time has gone when the government could enforce the guidelines by force, now people have to do that themselves.
Kerala Health Minister Veena George, on August 19, had said that TPR was high in the state due to more tests being conducted and had asked everyone to be vigilant during Onam as COVID cases were on the rise.
“While lives and livelihood are important, self preservation was also important,” she had said.
“You cannot hold a gun to people’s head and make them follow the guidelines. They need to modify their behaviour on their own,” Dr Fettle said and added that “instead of government orders, an emotional cry to the people is needed to follow the norms.”
A similar view was expressed by Dr Kannan, who said that when police officers point out violations of COVID norms in shops during the festive season, the reaction they get from the shop owners or the public is that they are ready to face the legal consequences.
This, he said, was due to the fact that people, especially merchants and small businessmen, have been starving due to loss of revenue due to the lockdown and subsequent restricted opening of businesses.
Financial crisis faced by those without a steady income as well as being cooped up indoors for such a long time has changed people’s outlook towards the virus and they are less scared of it now, he said.
Fettle, on the other hand, said that while it was right that businesses cannot be kept shut forever and people cannot be asked to remain indoors indefinitely, but when venturing out individuals need to modify their behaviour and follow the COVID-19 norms.
He said that people, when venturing out, should consider the risk being taken by health workers, who are working day-in and day-out without breaks, holidays or even Onam to care for those affected by COVID-19, and also remember the number of people who lost their lives or those who lost loved ones or breadwinners to the virus.
“The public, those who escaped the virus, need to dedicate their carefulness, modify their behaviour by taking into account the health workers who are working tirelessly without holidays and the people who lost their lives or those who lost loved ones or breadwinners in the family to COVID-19,” Fettle said.
Kerala reported 17,106 COVID-19 cases and 83 deaths on Saturday, taking the total affected in the state to 38,03,903 and the toll to 19,428, according to a state government release.
The release had also said that till Saturday, 96,481 samples were tested taking the cumulative number of specimens examined so far to 3,01,70,011 and the TPR stood at 17.73 per cent.
Meanwhile, 20,846 people recuperated from the disease on Saturday, taking the total cured in the state to 36,05,480. Currently, there are 1,78,462 people under treatment in the state, the release had said.