Within a day of Lakshadweep detecting its first COVID-19 case on 18 January 2021, the total number of such cases in the archipelago rose to 14. A quick rise that stretched the medical infrastructure of this small Union Territory beyond its limits.
The situation has worsened ever since Praful Khoda Patel took charge as administrator of the UT in December 2020, locals allege. He has “enabled a free pass for community spread of the virus”, they accused.
Here’s a look at Lakshadweep’s raging COVID crisis.
More Than 11.5% Of Lakshadweep Infected
In January 2021, Lakshadweep registered a test positivity rate of 42.4 per cent. Within a span of four months, the number of cases went up to 4,986. The UT also recorded 14 deaths. As of 30 May 2021, Lakshadweep has recorded 7,928 COVID cases and 32 deaths.
More than 11.5 per cent of the UT’s total population – which is slightly over 70,000 – is infected by the virus so far.
What caused the surge in cases?
In a video accessed by The Quint, Mohammed Faisal, the lone MP of the UT, is seen speaking to the Collector blaming the administrator’s decision to relax the stringent quarantine measures. In the video, he also accuses the administrator of allowing indiscriminate movement of people.
However, the administrator rebutted in press conference held later saying the archipelago has three entry points – from Kochi and Kozhikode in Kerala and Mangaluru in Karnataka. Since Kerala is one of the worst affected states in the country, the “surge reflected in Lakshadweep as well”, he said at the press conference held in May.
The doctors, meanwhile, blamed the administrator’s office. The first 40-odd COVID cases were persons who were in close contact with the administrator, two senior doctors alleged.
A senior doctor, who spoke to The Quint on condition of anonymity, explained, “This is a very close community and now we have rapid community spread which is life threatening”.
The COVID protocol which was in place till December 2020 stipulated that any person who wants to travel to Lakshadweep should be in institutional quarantine in Kochi, Kerala for 14 days. This was then followed up with an RT-PCR test. If found negative, the person could travel to the islands, only to be home quarantined for one more week. Public mobility was allowed only if a second RT-PCR test found the person COVID negative.
In December the administrator issued an order which changed this SOP. The two phases of quarantine were done away with. The order only stipulated that people who want to travel to Lakshadweep should test negative in an RT-PCR, 48 hours before travel. “As per this SOP persons who travel can step out and spread the virus,” said a Lakshadweep official.
Limited Health Facilities
Meanwhile, health facilities in Lakshadweep proved to fall short as COVID cases surged.
There are just three hospitals on the islands — Indira Gandhi (IG) Hospital and Rajiv Gandhi Speciality Hospital in Kavaratti and the Government Hospital in Minicoy.
There are 70 beds in all at the IG hospital and Government Hospital. The Rajiv Gandhi Specialty is a 100-bed tertiary care hospital.
There are three 30-bed community health centres in Androth, Amini and Agatti. There are four primary health centres – each with 10 beds – in Kadmath, Kalpeni, Kilthan and Chetlat. There are two to three pharmacies in each of the islands.
“We have fever clinics in the hospital where people are tested and medicines are given. Those who test positive are made to stay in the first line treatment centres, which are basically four schools converted into 200-bed areas. But there are no doctors in these centres and only a few healthcare workers are available,” a doctor pointed out.
On 30 May 2021, there were 2,006 active cases and 23 containment zones in Lakshadweep.
Specialised Care Still Overseas
Health experts explained that several positions for specialised doctors have remained vacant at health facilities on the islands. Often people have to be flown out to be given specilised case.
Three air ambulances have been designated for airlifting patients who need intensive care.
“The new order has specified that the air ambulance is primarily for law and order maintenance and that medical emergencies are only second in priority. Also, if we request for an airlift after 4.30 pm, we don’t get clearance because there are no provisions to land at night. This means that if a person’s health condition deteriorates, there is very little we can do.”A senior doctor to The Quint
So far, 26 persons have been evacuated to Kerala for specialised care.
A senior doctor working in a COVID ward told The Quint, “Several people who had co-morbidities moved to Kerala at least six months ago to ensure access to treatment. We have one hospital with CT scan facility and no cardiologists.”
Doctors said that the central government had provided over 100 ventilators which have been lying idle because there are no oxygen tanks to attach.
“We are providing oxygen in cylinders at bedside. But for someone with COVID pneumonia we should give continuous supply and not in a disrupted fashion. But we have no choice.”A senior doctor to The Quint
On 28 May, the administration sent out a notice inviting tenders to set up oxygen plants as there are none in the Union Territory. The Quint has learnt that the work on two plants, one each in Indira Gandhi Speciality Hospital and Rajiv Gandhi Speciality Hospital, has begun.
Another doctor said, “The mortality rate is way higher than the numbers projected. The persons who traveled to Kerala and died there have not been counted. Many who died due to cardiac arrest were not even tested.”
Vaccination has been their saving grace, said doctors and locals. So far 34,357 persons have been administered the first dose of the COVID vaccine and 7,310, the second dose.
Vaccination helped reduce the severity of the disease in many, doctors observed. Ironically, as per Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s data Lakshadweep has recorded the highest vaccine wastage in the country with 9.76 per cent of vaccine doses being wasted.
Following criticism, the Lakshadweep administration, on 31 May announced extension of the complete lockdown for seven more days, to contain the spread of the deadly virus. The medical staff has urged the government to acquire more vaccines at the earliest to ensure vaccination for the entire population.