He’s been called “ India ’s Andrew Cuomo”. Or, to be fair, since Kerala’s chief minister was first off the blocks with his evening briefings, which started as far back as January 30, should it be the other way round – is New York governor Cuomo “America’s Pinarayi Vijayan”? Either way, Vijayan has emerged as a star performer for steering Kerala through the coronavirus pandemic with composure. Every evening at 6pm, families in the state turn on their televisions. The chief minister’s daily update is such essential viewing that audience figures spike, pushing popular serials and reality shows aside. India’s ‘vaccine king’ bets big on Oxford University coronavirus treatment But Vijayan is very different from Cuomo. He’s an old-style Indian politician and couldn’t care less about optics or sound bites. His delivery is so deadpan it borders on the soporific. Reading from his notes, he barely lifts his head. “I know he isn’t charismatic, but that’s the point. He is reassuring and creates a sense of security because he is so calm and that’s what I like,” said freelance photographer Shrijan Nair in the city of Kannur. Vijayan’s briefings show that he has grasped one important feature of the pandemic: it has left no area of human life untouched. So, on occasion, he strays from the day’s numbers to urge people to, say, drink more milk – since, with restaurants and hotels shut, milk consumption has fallen and dairy farmers are being forced to pour it down the drain. Another day, Vijayan urged men to help with the household chores because, with the whole family home, women had more work. On another, he reminded viewers to feed stray dogs. But his clear and regular communication with the public is only one component in the success of this little southern state in managing the crisis. The others are a good health care system, mobilising society to play an active role, and setting up a system of testing, isolating patients, and tracing their contacts from the day its first case was reported on January 30 – a medical student who had from Wuhan. Passengers were screened at all five airports. These airports were linked to ambulance and emergency-response services in district hospitals. At the state borders, every car was stopped. Village councils were instructed on how to manage infection control and home isolation. The state took over abandoned private hospitals and other abandoned buildings. A hospital in Kasaragod, in the state’s north – a hotspot – that had been under construction for four years was made operational as a “corona care” hospital in four days, with 200 beds and 10 more in the intensive care unit. Coronavirus: India’s lockdown becomes hunger games for millions of country’s poorest Unlike many other parts of India, Kerala society is more cohesive and united. This feature comes into play at times of crisis, enabling state and society to work in unison. “At every level we are organised into civic groups. We have religious bodies, trade unions, neighbourhood groups, welfare groups – and we all pull together when there is an emergency because we share a collective ethos,” said Prashant Pillai, a hotel manager in Fort Kochi. This civic sense was on display in the way Vijayan handled migrant labourers from other states. Elsewhere in India, they have suffered badly, stranded in cities with no work or income since the national lockdown came into place on March 24. But most of the estimated 2 million migrant workers in Kerala – Vijayan pointedly refers to them as “guest workers” rather than migrants – have been fed through more than 1,000 community kitchens and looked after in hundreds of relief shelters. Coronavirus: India’s lockdown sees strays starve as pets are abandoned The state’s experience of the 2017 Nipah virus outbreak also came in handy. “Overcoming Nipah gave confidence in the health system and made people trust government,” said Rajeev Sadanandan, Kerala’s former health secretary. “Post-Nipah, the surveillance system was revamped. Health care workers were trained on tracing and tracking. Isolation buildings and beds were identified. All this proved to be a mock drill for managing Covid-19.” Kerala’s preparedness singled it out from other states. In a March 23 article in The Hindu , the state’s current health minister K.K. Shailaja said her ministry had started planning for the outbreak as early as mid-January. To take a random date, on April 9 the state had 345 cases and two deaths, while India had 5,218 cases and 169 deaths. Kerala’s figures were not low by any means, but that is explained by mass testing. As of April 7, the state had tested more than 10,000 samples – the highest of any Indian state. By now, Kerala is seeing only single-digit daily increases in infected patients while India’s overall figure is still on a sharp upwards curve. Even the state’s recovery rate is high. As of April 28, 495 people had tested positive in Kerala, three of whom had died while 369 recovered. This puts its recovery rate at around 74.6 per cent, compared with the national recovery rate of around 23 per cent. Help us understand what you are interested in so that we can improve SCMP and provide a better experience for you. We would like to invite you to take this five-minute survey on how you engage with SCMP and the news.