Senior Fellow at CPPR Dr Rijo M John, comments in a article published in The New Indian Express on the Kerala testing of returning expatriates.

Image source: The New Indian Express

In a change from its earlier stand, Kerala seems to have decided not to test the expatriates who are in institutional quarantine unless they show COVID-19 symptoms and send them home only after completing 14-day isolation period.

The state had earlier said that all returnees from abroad would be tested for coronavirus after seven days and those with negative results would be sent for home quarantine for the remaining seven days.

The first flight carrying Indians stranded abroad had arrived in Kochi 12 days ago.

Principal Health Secretary Rajan Khobragade told TNIE that a PIL in the Kerala High Court last week making the Central government’s policy of 14-day institutional quarantine mandatory in Kerala made the matter “sub judice”.

“The PIL in the court has tied everyone including the GoI, Ministry of Health and GoK. Since the Nipah days, we’ve a time-tested protocol where we quarantine and isolate suspected persons,” he said.

Kasaragod DMO Dr A V Ramdas said the administration has decided to follow the Centre’s directives to put returning NRIs in institutional quarantine for 14 days.

“Earlier, the state government had decided to test all returnees and send them into home quarantine after seven days. Now, we are not testing unless they have symptoms, but they will be in institutional quarantine,” he said.

Sources said the government may have released the first set of passengers who arrived on May 7 after they completed seven days — that is from May 14 — before taking a decision to stop testing and keep them for 14 days in institutional quarantine.

The PIL said Kerala’s divergent policy of allowing seven days’ home quarantine in the event of testing negative after the seventh day of institutional quarantine in some cases must be stopped.

State is reducing number of tests

 According to government data, 3,998 persons have come from abroad via flights until now. Of this, 2,191 are in-home quarantine and 1,714 in institutional quarantine.

This shows more than half of the overseas returnees are now in home quarantine though the 14-day period gets over only on May 21 (Thursday).

The change of approach also means Kerala is reducing the number of COVID tests. Rijo John, health economist and senior fellow at Kochi-based think-tank CPPR, said Kerala’s testing numbers have come down now to on a par or below other states.

However, lower testing by itself is not a bad thing for Kerala as the number of tests required to determine a positive case in the state was much higher.

As on Tuesday, Kerala has tested 46,958 samples of which 45,527 samples were negative.

“If the number of positive cases from among the samples tested becomes lower and lower, then it would mean we are improving the grip on the situation. That’s the case with Kerala, at least till now,” he said.

This news article was published in The New Indian Express on May 20, 2020. Click here to read

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