Residents and hospital visitors wearing face masks walk outside the Government Medical College in Kerala's Thrissur town on Jan. 30. The first confirmed case of the coronavirus in India was kept in isolation at the facility. (Photo: STR/AFP)
Cardinal George Alencherry in southern India has asked people to be vigilant and strictly follow government instructions to check the spread of the coronavirus after Kerala declared the epidemic “a state calamity” on Feb. 3.
The southern state of 33 million people, about 20 percent of them Christians, reported all of India’s three confirmed cases of virus infection in students who returned from Wuhan, the Chinese city that first reported the virus in December.
Cardinal Alencherry, head of the Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church and of the regional bishops’ council, appealed to people to exercise maximum caution.
State Health Minister K.K. Shailaja on Feb. 3 confirmed India’s third case of infection and said some 2,200 people, mostly those who returned recently from China, are under observation.
Hundreds of people travel from Kerala to China for business, while 13,000 Indians, mostly from Kerala, also study in Chinese universities.
Kerala remains the only Indian state where the presence of the deadly disease has been detected. In a bid to beef up preventive measures, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan declared the virus a “state calamity.”
A senior official from the health department said the declaration means the entire state machinery will gear up to face the situation and medical officers on leave would have to report for duty. Special control rooms have been opened in all the state's 14 districts.
“The calamity-hit state has kept 2,239 people, who traveled from virus-affected countries including China, under surveillance,” a state bulletin said. “Among them, as many as 2,155 are under home quarantine and 84 admitted to isolation wards in different hospitals.”
The state health minister warned of legal action against those who fail to report to authorities after returning from China, where the epidemic has claimed over 400 lives so far.
“What they are doing by not reporting is very dangerous,” she said. "Those who remain under observation and home quarantine are doing a great job for society. We should be thankful to them. All the 2,239 persons under observation came to us directly, saying they came from China."
Cardinal Alencherry said the state is going through “a difficult situation” and urged people to “support the government and its initiative” to contain the virus from spreading any further.
The prelate also sought prayers for medical professionals who are working overtime to help infected people.
The cardinal’s Feb. 3 statement also asked parishes across the state to conduct special prayers on Feb. 9.
“The Church wants people to be alert to the phenomenon of the coronavirus attack and make adequate preparation to avoid its infection,” the statement said.
Father Antony Thalachelloor, spokesman for the Syro-Malabar Synod, said bishops have asked church-run hospitals to be prepared to help the state in case of emergencies.
“If the people follow the government instruction properly, we can contain the virus from spreading any further,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kerala’s neighboring Karnataka state has begun scanning people arriving from Kerala to avoid the entry of the virus.