Call to book an appointment at Kottakkal Arya Vaidya Sala, in Kochi, and the first questions is “Are you from a containment zone?” Although Kerala's Ayurvedic centres, which draw visitors from all over the world for their rejuvenating treatments, have finally reopened, there is nothing relaxed about their processes anymore.
With COVID-19 forcing all business that re-open to be constantly vigilant, a verbal confirmation is not enough. Now, a photo-id card, such as Aadhar card as proof of address too, is mandatory for those seeking Ayurveda treatments in Kerala. Appointments are based on questionnaires that seek detailed travel history and quarantine details, in keeping with Ministry of Ayush guidelines.
The Malayalam month of Karkidakam is important in the treatment calendar of Ayurveda centres. Traditionally this is the time – when the monsoon cools temperatures – for wellness and rejuvenation therapies. “Wellness treatment during Karkidakam has many benefits including immunity building and overall well being of mind and body. This is a good time as this is when the season changes and hence ideal for such treatments,” says Dr. Rekha Varma, chief physician Nagarjuna Stree Ayurveda Centre, Tripunithura in Kochi.
If walk-ins were encouraged earlier, they are now restricted. “We are very strict now and insist on paperwork and all details. A photo id is proof of address, this way we know where patients are coming from – containment zones and hotspots too. We cannot take this situation lightly,” says Raju UP, Asst. Public Relations Manager of the Kottakkal Arya Vaidya Sala (Kochi). Kottakkal Arya Vaidya Sala does not have a Karkidakam-specific wellness regime as it offers year-round treatment for medical conditions too.
“We don’t admit patients with co-morbidities and those coming from containment zones. They have to furbish details about their travel history. Once the health parameters are found to be normal, we start the therapy,” says Dr Mohamed Mirdaz K, medical director, Edhini Ayurveda Hospital, Chathamangalam, Kozhikode.
The process – including pre and post treatment – have also got longer. Not only do therapists have to gear up in masks and face shields, treatment rooms are disinfected/fumigated after each session, temperature checks done on the patients, daily temperature checks for therapists, and janitorial staff. At some places, besides sanitisation patients are required to bathe before and after treatments too, and they are given ‘immunity booster’ decoctions with ingredients such as turmeric, tulsi, pepper, dry ginger and cinnamon.
Pankajakasthuri Group of Institutions, Thiruvananthapuram goes a step beyond, after the after initial screening for any symptoms of the pandemic, the patient has to undergo IgM test (Immunoglobulin M test to measure the level of antibodies in blood) and, if needed, the RT-PCR test before they are admitted at his hospital, says Dr. J Hareendran Nair, founder. “As for our therapists, besides complying with safety measures, they also take certain medicines as a prophylactic measure,” he adds.
The numbers of those seeking wellness treatments have fallen drastically and enquiries for wellness treatments few but Ayurveda hospitals and centres have not turned away people seeking these. However, the packages – usually for seven, 14 or 21 days – are being administered in keeping with Government guidelines and precautionary measures. Spas at resorts and hotels have not started functioning yet.
Dr Mirdaz says that while foreign tourists – Arabs and Europeans – made up a large chunk of those seeking treatments now it is locals. “If in the past we had 30-35 patients, today we have around four, all locals. The occupancy has dropped,” he says. Dr. Hareedran echoes the sentiment, “I would peg the occupancy at one bed for every 10 beds.” The treatments are primarily panchakarma , kizhi and/or virechana (purgation), no COVID-19 inclusions. Those who have tele-consultation speak of enquiries about immunity boosters.
Says Linda Rakesh, CEO of RCM Wellness Centre in Kochi, “Right now, we are being cautious about who we admit for wellness treatments. We are not encouraging new admissions for now; we are looking at clients who have come to us earlier or who we are familiar with. We cannot do this for pain management treatments, those treatments are done under strict conditions.”
The number of therapists and doctors on premises is restricted or reduced; at some places they work over shifts while staying on campus to restrict exposure to COVID-19. It is a lot of work – for instance fumigating the therapy room after each session, which takes up to half an hour. But the accent is on keeping everybody – therapist and patient –safe. Some centres prefer to admit patients like Dr. Mirdaz, who says, “Patients have to remain in the hospital during the full course of the treatment unlike previous years when they were allowed to go home after a day’s session.” The duration of stay depends on the treatment. These steps go a long way in instilling a sense of security in patients, they add.
However, not all clinics prefer to admit patients. “It is not viable now. That’s why we have a seven-day package for those from in and around our panchayat only so that they can go home after the day’s therapy session. Consultation is not open for the 60-plus age group who are at higher risk of contracting the disease,” says Dhanesh PG, manager of Madhaveeyam Ayurveda Chikitsalayam at Chelakkara, Thrissur.
(With inputs from Athira M)