Kerala Church offers hospitals to fight Covid-19

Church has to be at the service of society to tide over this crisis, says Cardinal Alencherry
Kerala Church offers hospitals to fight Covid-19

Cardinal George Alencherry arrives for talks ahead of a conclave to elect a new pope on March 4, 2013, at the Vatican. He has offered church healthcare facilities to Kerala's government in the fight against coronavirus. (Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP)

Church officials in Kerala, India's worst coronavirus-hit state, have offered their vast network of healthcare institutions and staff to the state's communist-led government in an attempt to help fight the global pandemic.

Cardinal George Alencherry, head of the Kerala-based Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church, has asked Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to use some 250 Catholic healthcare facilities in the fight against the virus.

"Catholic Church has offered to hand over its hospitals to fight against Covid-19," Vijayan tweeted on March 24. He said Cardinal Alencherry made the offer to him in a telephone call. 

Appreciating the Church's offer, Vijayan said: "I am grateful to the Catholic Church for coming forward to back the government at this critical time."

He said the offer would strengthen the southern state's administrative mechanism and be "a morale booster" to the government.

The Church in Kerala runs 249 hospitals, including three medical colleges.

Cardinal Alencherry, in a statement, said he made the offer because "we have to be at the service of society to tide over this crisis."

Surging cases in Kerala 

Kerala has reported 110 Covid-19 cases, the highest number in the country, followed by the western state of Maharashtra with 107 cases.

"Currently, 72,460 persons are under observation in the state. Of them, 466 are isolated in hospitals. The rest are self-quarantined at their homes. On March 24 alone, 164 persons were admitted to hospitals," said Vijayan.

The Church also suggested setting up special medical teams to create awareness, said Father Antony Thalachelloor, spokesman of the Synod of Syro-Malabar Church.

The health department has also approached the Church seeking its student hotels and other facilities to convert them into quarantine homes, the priest said.

"We have agreed to provide all such facilities if the government requires," the priest added.

The cardinal and other bishops "were very much concerned about the rise in a number of positive cases and wanted to help the government," Father Thalachelloor told UCA News on March 25.

India shuts down 

In an attempt to curb the spread of the outbreak in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24 announced a nationwide lockdown for three weeks.

Covid-19 cases in India have now reached 560 with 10 deaths. On March 24 alone, India reported 64 new cases.

The PM's call for social distancing has received widespread community support across the country.

More than 1.8 million people in India are being monitored because they have displayed symptoms of the illness, visited abroad or been exposed to confirmed cases.

The national capital of Delhi has been under lockdown since March 22 with borders closed, taxis and rickshaws cleared from the roads, and shops and restaurants shut. Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi's chief minister, has set up shelter homes where people are offered free meals.

Henk Bekedam, the World Health Organization's representative to India, hailed the country's response to the pandemic, terming it as "comprehensive and robust."

The announcement to impose a complete shutdown will have a devastating impact on the 300 million Indians who live below the poverty line and survive on daily earnings. 

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has promised to announce a comprehensive relief package soon.

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