India’s Kerala state orders lockdown as COVID cases rise

The southern state has an active caseload of some 154,000 infections, 37 percent of India’s total cases.

Migrant workers at a railway station in Kochi, Kerala, to leave for their home states [Sivaram V/Reuters]

India’s southern state of Kerala has announced a two-day lockdown as federal authorities plan to send experts to fight the spread of infections in the country’s leading COVID-19 hotspot.

India’s daily cases have fallen after a devastating second wave that overwhelmed the healthcare system, and vaccination efforts are gaining steam.

But experts have warned the authorities against reopening cities too quickly.

Kerala, with an active caseload of about 154,000, accounts for 37.1 percent of India’s total active cases. Its case positivity rate, indicating the pace of spread in infections, is now the country’s highest.

“Special intensified stringent restrictions are being implemented in the areas where the test positivity rate is high,” the state’s department of disaster management said in a statement announcing a “complete lockdown” from Sunday.

During the last four weeks, seven of Kerala’s 14 districts reported an increasing trend in daily new infections, government data released earlier this week showed.

On Thursday, the federal government said it was sending half a dozen experts to monitor Kerala’s worst-hit areas and work with state authorities on strategies to contain the outbreak.

India’s central government has left decisions on lockdowns and reopenings to local state authorities, leading to an uneven response that experts say has allowed new hotspots to develop even as infections fall in previous epicentres.

India on Thursday reported 43,509 new coronavirus cases in the previous 24 hours, taking the overall tally to 31.53 million, though experts believe the actual figure could be much higher.

It is second only to the United States in the cumulative number of infections.

The western state of Maharashtra, India’s industrial hub and the state hit hardest by a devastating second wave, was the second-most affected in the country, accounting for more than 20 percent of the overall cases, official data showed.

Maharashtra began lifting lockdown restrictions last month to revive the economy.

The reproduction rate, or R-value, of COVID-19 in India hit 1 on July 24 for the first time since May when daily infections were near a peak of 400,000, raising the risk of an even faster spread of infections.

“The increase (in R-value) is expected as we are opening up the country,” Bhramar Mukherjee, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan, tweeted.

“Where it goes from here depends on the public and the policymakers.”

Source: Reuters