Reflecting tough seesaw battle ahead, Kasaragod in Kerala, one of the first coronavirus hotspots in the country, is bracing for second round of infections barely a day after it became free of COVID-19 cases as four people who travelled from Maharashtra tested positive in the district.
From a high of 164 coronavirus cases early last month, the northern district achieved nil infections on Sunday with the three-lock containment strategy of the police paying rich dividends, but the joy turned out to be short-lived with the fresh cases being reported the very next day.
However, IPS officer Vijay Sakhare, the brain behind the strategy, is confident of repeating the success story if the three-lock system was scaled up in view of the new cases and also taking into view the rush of returnees stranded abroad and elsewhere in the country.
Kasaragod, which lacked speciality healthcare infrastructure compared to other districts in the state, had so far witnessed zero COVID-19 deaths though it emerged a hotspot after a three-member family which returned from Italy tested positive in March.
Four people who had arrived from Maharashtra were found infected with the deadly virus on Monday, signalling start of a possible second wave in the district.
Sharing his experience as the COVID-19 officer in Kasaragod district, Sakhare said the results of the triple lock strategy have demonstrated it was extremely successful in containing the contagion.
'Triple lock' involves a combination of technology and human surveillance and restricting movement of people in three stages.
Lock-I envisages broader restriction of movement of all people residing in the district, while Lock-II created a Geographical Information System, mapping all positive cases, while the third stage involved targeted effort to keep primary and secondary contacts of COVID-19 patient in their homes.
The IG rank officer, who was deputed by Chief Minister Pianarayi Vijayan as COVID-19 special officer for Kasaragod in March, ensured effective implementation of the triple lock, prompting the government to expand it to neighbouring Kannur which too then appeared heading towards becoming a hotspot.
In a note on "triple lock strategy", Sakhare spoke of the new challenges after people returning through inter-state land borders, including those from red-zones and permitted to undergo 14 day quarantine at their homes.
The overseas returnees have been asked to observe mandatory quarantine in institutional centres or hotels.
"Many of these evacuated persons may turn Covid positive after returning home. Some of them may be symptomatic carriers and a few may be asymptomatic."
"In order to meet these challenges and prevent spread of infection in community, triple-lock strategy has to be scaled up," the officer said in the note.
"The new returnees to Kasaragod have to be brought under the umbrella of Lock-III," Sakhare, Kochi City Police Commissioner who returned from Kasaragod last week after completion of his special assignment, said.
Talking to PTI, he said the residences of the returnees should be monitored continuously by stationing police guards in front of select houses, by covering houses of home quarantined people with mobile patrols, which check physical presence of the person at least twice a day.
Drones and Covid-Safety app, developed by the state police, would also be deployed for this purpose.
Legal action should be initiated against the violators and their family members for endangering the lives of others in the society, the senior IPS officer said.
Another challenge is to ensure that those people who stay at 'institutional quarantine centres' observe it properly and do not socialise with each other.
An officer at least of the rank of Sub-Inspector should be made in-charge of the centre. He should ensure no person visited any of the inmates or none stepped out at any point of time.
The Covid-Safety app should be installed in every inmate's phone to ensure the person does not violate the quarantine, Sakhare said.
Similar system should be in place in hotels as well.
The hotel staff have to be trained in maintaining quarantine and ensuring that it was observed by the returnees.
"The success of strategy can be gauged from the fact that it has brought weekly reporting of cases from 64 to barely 5 with in the span of three weeks-a reduction of 92 per cent.
In succeeding three weeks, only 5,4 and 2 positive cases were reported and in last 11 days since 1st May, no positive case was reported (in Kasaragod)- which demonstrates the resounding success of the containment strategy," he claimed.
The last coronavirus positive patient of the first wave in the district recovered on Sunday.