Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. The world is facing a catastrophic time where Covid-19 is triggering challenges that we never knew occurred. While the confirmed cases in the world and India is accumulating drastically upwards on a day-to-day basis. The Covid-19 poses health and economic challenges to the world and we are yet to decide the process of which policy is operational. During this time a small state like Kerala was able to control the pandemic that need detailed discussion.
In early March, six initial cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in India, and three of them were from Kerala.With the highest recovery rate and least death rate, once again the Kerala model of development proved to be one of the best models in the country. The recovery rate of the patients is higher than any other state in India. The state which always enjoyed the perks of high human development, government and health department had success in handling an epidemic. It was not long ago they had dealt with a deadly virus Nipah, and contained the virus within a few weeks without spreading it not even to other districts rather than the origin. This had helped the fight of the state against COVID -19.
Concerns and challenges
The cautionary measures in the state started long in the context of the spread of the virus in Italy and other European countries. For the state with more than 24 lakh citizens outside the boundaries the threat was near. Since the pandemic spread in other countries, the citizens of Kerala returned in a considerable figure which made the state the hotspot of the disease. A health crisis carries the baggage of an economic crisis.
Once the health crisis is terminated, what waits Kerala is the massive financial crises and rehabilitation of the inhabitants coming back from other countries after losing their livelihood. The already crushed financial system will stumble when the NRI remittance decreases. Almost 36 per cent of the GDP of the state is contributed by its citizens in foreign countries. The recent unemployment rate in Kerala is 3.4 per cent which will again shoot up and the more concerning issue is that Kerala has the highest educated unemployment rate. Since the nation is in lockdown for 40 plus days the daily wage workers and informal workers in the state are in poverty.
Around 40 per cent of the employment in Kerala is of casual workers who lost their income for a long time and will not be able to escape from the crisis for a fairly long time. As an immediate solution, the Kerala government has initiated several policies for the welfare of the poor. The major source of revenue for the Kerala government is the beverage and liquor shops in the state. While the morality behind this is always in question, it’s not an argument that it contributes a large portion of the revenue and the state is the highest alcohol consumption state.
During the previous financial year, the revenue of the government was 1.15 lakh crore. In the lockdown when the shops were closed, it has a considerable loss in economic terms, and it also caused social disturbances in the state, there were more than five suicides in the state regarding the ban of alcohol which put the government in a difficult position.
Meeting the needs:
All the vacancies in the health sector were filled and COVID hospitals were established in every district. Following the South Korean model, Kerala developed its own phone booth testing center at a low cost for ensuring the
safety of health workers.
The government made certain that no one was left starving during the lockdown with several innovative methods. The Anganwadi teachers ensured the supply of food and nutrients for the children by supplying the food grains at their respective homes. The opening of community kitchens (1000)provided food for the poor, homeless, and isolated families during their quarantine period.The government also provided a free ration for all families in the state. The BPL cardholders received 35 kg of rice and the APL holders received 15 kg of rice. The next stage of this massive program is the 1000 rupee kit of necessary food items for all the families which started from the rural areas. The government also announced the food availability for the street dogs and birds and ensured food for them from the community kitchen. Public health centers and local self-governing bodies in Kerala have a substantial role in virus preventive measures.
At the same time, a Rs 2000- crore loan was pushed into the economy through Kudumbashree to increase awareness and for the empowerment of women. DISHA public helpline was opened to provide assistance regarding any issues related to COVID. The COVID care centers established for taking care of those who have no residence in state such as foreign tourists. Kerala is the state where their major source of income is tourism, thus when the crisis struck, it took extra care in ensuring the safety of their tourists. A great accomplishment in the state was able to cure their confirmed foreign citizens and many tourists stayed back in the state claiming the safety they felt.
The lockdown created uncertainty in the lives of casual labourers. The government immediately opened welfare centers for them ensuring their health and food security. There were large awareness programs and addressing their issues to prevent the migration of workers from one place to another. What the government called them was “Athidi” which means guest workers. The government ensured their safety and security as the same as their citizens and their food security was ensured along with their contractors and local government bodies.
By April, the number of cases increased up to 400 and most of them were from the same district Kasargod. The Kasargod district becomes in the disaster situation and the reason for the increase in the cases was the majority of the population in the areas are from the gulf region who returned during the crises. While there was a negative emotion developing for the aboard citizens who returned to state. The chief minister addressed the issue with such dignity. He reminded the citizens the importance of them for the economy of Kerala and supporting them at the time of crises. The government also advocated in preserving the physiological well being of the citizen during the lockdown. The government ensured that telecom services should work properly during the lockdown. When the lockdown continued to April, the government ensured the supply of welfare pensions.
The path of recovery:
In between all these challenges, the rewards for the precaution came to the state in April when the eldest citizen’s recovery happened in Kerala where 93 years and the 88-year-old couple recovered from the disease. They are eldest recovered patients in India. Along with them, 474 others got recovered till date. Now the next step is the prevention of the communal spread. As the days passed, the curve became flattened in Kerala and with a record of 94 per cent of recovery rate and the number of new cases is also below 10 and the current active cases are just below 26.
While the curve is flattening, it is a high time for a consumer state like Kerala to rethink of self-sufficiency. When the borders close,the state should survive alone and Kerala has a long way ahead for this. It’s also important to revive the economy from the crisis which will need innovative and huge public expenditure from the government. When Kerala had recovered from all the disasters in flying colors, let us hope the path to economic stability will be easy too.