Kerala prepares line of defence against coronavirus, sets up isolation wards at hospitals

Vishnu Varma
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China has shut down 13 cities as coronavirus death toll climbs to 26. (Source: AP Photo/Dake Kang)

As a stream of Malayalis travelling from parts of China, including Wuhan, currently in the grip of a serious coronavirus outbreak, return home, the Kerala government has put in place a strong line of defence to prevent the spread of infection in compliance with the guidelines of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

As part of the first line of defence, extensive screening and precautionary measures are being implemented at all four international airports in the state, especially Cochin. According to the Cochin airport official, passengers arriving from outbreak-suspected areas in China are briefed and all precautionary measures taken. If passengers are suspected to carry the infection, a sterilised ambulance has been kept ready to ferry them to the Medical College in Kalamassery.

Around 60 passengers on Thursday and 24 passengers on Friday who departed from China and transited through far East airports like Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Singapore were examined and briefed at Cochin. But so far, all tests have proved to be negative. They were allowed to go home after their contact details were collected.

"Of these people coming from places like Wuhan, there are two kinds. If they are asymptomatic (producing no symptoms), then they need to be confined to their homes and take a lot of precautions which we have already issued. That's called house isolation. And if the people are symptomatic, they need to come into the health system by accessing the district hospital or the Medical College," said Rajan N Khobragade, the state health secretary.

The government has already ordered setting up of isolation wards at medical colleges and district hospitals along with carrying out disinfection measures. The Kerala Medical Services Corporation Limited (KMSCL) will supply all essential safety kits including masks and gloves. Facilities are being arranged for those exhibiting coronavirus symptoms to get easier navigation to treatment at medical colleges so as to prevent contact.

Khobragade added, "We will take samples from patients and first test for other infections with symptoms like cold or cough. If they are negative, we will keep the severity in mind and send samples to the National Institute of Virology in Pune. That's the clinical protocol."

"This is an adenovirus as per the present WHO bulletin. So we are not expecting the kind of virulency as it was during the SARS outbreak...we have to be watchful and positive at the same time. The awareness building in Kerala is quite fast and people will proactively come forward (if they show symptoms)."

As of Friday evening, at least 26 people have died in China as a result of the novel coronavirus (n-COV) infection that can spread by animal-to-human and human-to-human transmission. Since it is first transmitted from animals, many of those are believed to have been infected as they worked or frequently visited the Huanan seafood wholesale market where live and slaughtered animals are sold. Symptoms of the virus include cough, fever and breathing problems, leading to pneumonia and internal organ failure. There is no vaccine for coronavirus and can only be treated for specific symptoms.