Kerala is the state where the first case of COVID-19 was reported in India. This was back in January 30 2020. The patient was a medical student from Wuhan, believed to be the Chinese city from where the pandemic originated. She travelled back to her home state when the viral pandemic had just commenced its death dance in Wuhan. Since then, keeping with the trend in the rest of the Indian states, the COVID-19 cases frog-leaped in Kerala too. Kerala soon became the Indian state with the most numbers of COVID-19 positive patients. As of 19 April 2020, there were 401 confirmed cases with 270 recoveries and 3 deaths. Most of the cases were those who returned to the state from countries with high incidence of the disease like UAE and Italy. Most of the cases were clustered in the Northern districts of Kasargod, Kannur, Kozhikode and Malappuram. Kasagod witnessed a flurry of cases testing positive, with a UAE returnee who was COVID-positive throwing caution to the wind by refusing to be quarantined. Instead, he attended social functions, watched a football match and mingled with friends and relatives including politicians. In the process he infected many. Delegates who attended the Tablighi Jamaat religious congregation in Markaz Mosque at Nizamuddin also contributed to Kerala’s spurt in cases, like in other parts of India. Kerala’s neighboring states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, which at that time had considerably much lower numbers of COVID19-positive patients sealed their borders with Kerala to prevent viral transmission to those states. Karnataka refused patients from Kerala’s Kasargod district, with which it shared borders, to seek treatment in Mangalore. Permission was denied to ambulances carrying patients to cross the Kerala-Karnataka border, blocked by piling sand on the roads.
When that border was subsequently opened for patients from Kerala following intervention of the judiciary, patients were made to wait for hours at the border. Such tactics at the Kerala-Karnataka border resulted in the death of a dozen patients from Kerala, who were regularly availing treatment from hospitals in Mangalore in Karnataka. Tamil Nadu made a fuss at the Walayar check-post when lorries carrying edibles from Kerala were sprayed with sanitizer solution to kill any virus that might be exported from Kerala into Tamil Nadu. Kerala was thus made a ‘hive of viral presence’, with great deal of taboo attached to her by her neighbors.
As the tiff across the borders between Kerala and her neighbors persisted, cardiac surgeons of a Hospital in Kochi in Kerala received an SOS about a baby born in a hospital in Tamil Nadu’s Nagarcoil. The baby was born with a congenital heart disease called Transposition of Great vessels, which rendered the baby blue. She needed to be operated if she had to survive. The hospital authorities took up the matter with the Chief Minister of Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan, who intervened to permit hassle-free transportation of the sick baby in a critical care ambulance on April 14 2020 amid the national lockdown to the Hospital. There she underwent a life-saving seven-hour surgery to correct her congenital heart disease.
This incident, at the height of the Corona Virus pandemic in this part of the world highlighted most of all, the attitude and the Good Samaritan deed pursued by the Kerala Chief Minister. He had every right to be peeved at Kerala’s neighbors’ attitude in denying treatment to her patients under the pretext that trans-border transportation of patients would export COVID-19 from Kerala into those states. The Kerala Chief Minister by ensuring safe transportation of the sick baby from Tamil Nadu, whose life was endangered by a heart disease, exhibited great maturity at the time of a national crisis. He refused to dabble in petty politicking and procedural wrangles. That he chose not to toe an eye-for-an-eye policy with his not-so-friendly neighbors spoke volumes of large-heartedness and laudable humanitarian quality of an Indian state, worthily called ‘God’s own Country’ and her Chief Minister who dedicated himself along with an efficient council of ministers and administrators to Sheppard the state from one with the highest number of COVID positive cases, and as the first Indian state to report a COVID positive case to the first Indian state to flatten the COVID curve. This was achieved through aggressive testing, contact tracing, quarantining and treating positive cases and their contacts and ensuring near-total observance of the national lockdown.