Vineeth needs his phone and all the other lines ready at the Covid-19 call centre where he’s volunteered to take calls for essential and relief supplies in Kerala’s Kannur district. Much of the district’s semi-rural population relies on the Peringome Vayakkara panchayat call centre which is manned by the former India international and his team. As part of an outreach model set up by the Kerala State Sports Council in partnership with the local zilla panchayats, the idea is to deliver essential supplies within 24 hours after procuring them from the local supermarket in the area.
“Speed is of essence. It is a busy time,” he tells TOI during a hastily-taken lunch break, “The phones are already ringing when I reach at 10 in the morning and I leave with the same sound ringing in the evening. There are between 150 to 200 calls each day.
“Most calls are mostly for vegetables, rice or medicines. But sometimes there are calls asking for hair dye too,” he chuckles.
But Vineeth is careful to add that it is not an emergency despite the Kannur region being among the more affected areas in Kerala. “We have identified about 60 cases in Kannur. It had to do with a lot of people returning from abroad., Around 10 of those were already infected when they arrived, only about six or seven were infected due to local transmission.
Kerala is the leading example in containment of the pandemic with the highest recovery and lowest mortality rates so far among all Indian states. A TOI report Friday says that of 52 cases reported in Kannur till last week, 15 tested negative and were discharged. None of them had to be admitted to the ICU.
Vineeth is admittedly a bit taken aback by the sudden attention around his volunteering work. A number of Indian sportspersons – most notably have Joginder Sharma – too have been in the frontline in the battle against the pandemic. “Why this sudden fuss?” asks Vineeth, “The other day, Antony Varghese (Malayalam film actor of Angamaly Diaries fame) who is good friends with cricketer Ifran Pathan, was mentioning to me how Irfan was really involved with relief and supplies work in Baroda,” he says, “We are only doing what we are supposed to do.”
Vineeth says that through the state Sports Council, a number of local and state-level sportspersons are currently helping out in some form or the other across Kerala. “This is not like the Kerala floods of 2018, where we all could essentially contribute or help in whatever way. This time, you just have to be in lockdown and hope the supplies reach you,” says the footballer who had helped in rescue and relief work during the floods of 2018.
Most famous for returning home and ploughing his family paddy fields during the football off-season, Vineeth borrows from football, family and lesson from his teacher father in his little endeavour. “This is a team sport at the moment. No one can do it on their own. I owe my career as a footballer to the people. This is my way of giving it back. And believe me, this is a very small contribution really,” he says.