Working overtime

In his 21st year in office, Naveen Patnaik handles the coronavirus pandemic with a deft hand.

Published : May 07, 2020 13:35 IST

Migrant workers who returned to Ganjam district undergoing thermal scanning before entering quarantine centres.

Migrant workers who returned to Ganjam district undergoing thermal scanning before entering quarantine centres.

As more and more COVID-19 cases get reported in the wake of the return of thousands of Odia people who were stranded in other States since the enforcement of nationwide lockdown, the Odisha government is working overtime to cope with the pressure.

The coming weeks are expected to be crucial since a lot would depend on the administration’s preparedness. People belonging to the State started returning soon after Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik held virtual discussions with his counterparts in Gujarat and other States through video conferencing, and requested them to facilitate the smooth return of those who were facing difficulties or were impatient to return home.

Only those who had directly registered themselves for return through a dedicated portal launched by the government or through their family members at the gram panchayat level were allowed to enter the State. Lakhs of people, including migrant workers, students and professionals, registered themselves within days of the launching of the portal.

But the administration found itself ill-equipped when large groups of people entered the State even before the second phase of the lockdown was extended. Many buses carrying migrants did not follow the route chart approved by the State government. This led to chaos in sending returnees to their designated quarantine facilities. Some people who managed to return from West Bengal during the lockdown, and those who returned by hired buses and special trains arranged by the government were reported to have violated quarantine norms upon arrival at Ganjam, Bhadark and other places. The government warned the returnees of legal action if they failed to comply with quarantine regulations.

The situation threatened to go out of hand in Ganjam district, which is known for a high rate of migration. Thousands of people had already arrived in the district by buses and more were returning by trains. As quarantine facilities in Ganjam were likely to be inadequate to handle the surge, the administration started looking at options to increase the number of such facilities.

The government had created facilities for quarantine with 3.3 lakh beds, but it received about two lakh registrations from Ganjam district alone. Five senior administration officials were sent to the district to micro-manage the quarantine of all returnees. Police deployment was increased in Ganjam.

Chief Secretary Asit Tripathy said Odisha was faring better than many other States in containing the spread of the virus thanks to the cooperation of the people and relentless administrative actions.

“We will not allow anyone to sabotage the success achieved over two months of uncompromising actions,” he said. He said the violators would not be entitled to the quarantine incentive of Rs.2,000 and could face arrest. Several cases were registered at different police stations for violation of quarantine norms.

Naveen Patnaik said lakhs of people were working tirelessly to mitigate the unprecedented situation and appealed to the people returning to the State to show similar dedication and sacrifice in checking the spread of the virus.

In order to clear the confusion on the ground, the government issued a series of orders seeking to ensure better food and basic amenities at the quarantine facilities in Ganjam and other districts.

The general apprehension about a possible increase in the number of positive cases in the coming weeks was not without basis. Only 60 cases were reported in the State until April 15, one month after the detection of the first case, but the State’s tally more than doubled in the following weeks.

At least 100 of the 170 cases reported until May 5, had links with West Bengal, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. The cluster of Jajpur, Bhadrak and Balasore turned into a red zone, where the majority of the infected persons had returned from West Bengal.

Although the State police kept a strict vigil at all checkpoints, many people had managed to sneak in. Realising that the police alone would not be able to deal with the influx, the government roped in people’s representatives at the grass-roots level to identify and quarantine the returnees.

In order to enhance health care of COVID-19 patients, doctors and paramedical staff are being mobilised and provided hands-on training. More beds and intensive care units are being added in COVID-19 exclusive hospitals and care centres in the State.

The government has set up 35 exclusive COVID-19 hospitals with a total capacity of 6,000 beds covering all the districts. Plans are afoot to increase the bed strength in these hospitals to 10,000 and create an inventory of additional human resource to be required in these facilities.

To ramp up testing, the government is procuring high-performance testing equipment for installation at government-run hospitals in different regions of the State. Patnaik directed the authorities to increase the testing capacity to 15,000 samples a day.

The Chief Minister announced that the government would accord martyr status to health personnel (private and public) and members of support services who lost their lives in the fight against COVID-19.

Patnaik’s two decades in power have been hyphenated by two major disasters. He had taken charge as Chief Minister a few months after a supercyclone had ripped apart the State’s coastal belt leaving thousands dead and millions homeless. Years of experience in handling disasters has come handy for him while tackling the pandemic.

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