Change in approach

Print edition : July 03, 2020

Stranded passengers seen outside the Bhubaneswar railway station as city observes weekend shutdown on June 7. Photo: Biswaranjan Rout

Police personnel enforcing the shutdown in Bhubaneswar on June 7. Photo: Biswaranjan Rout

Odisha is re-strategising its approach to cope with the rising number of infections by reinforcing restrictions and ramping up testing in migration-prone zones.

AS the fight against COVID-19 gets tougher in Odisha with the number of cases almost doubling in the first fortnight of June, the State government is re-strategising its approach to cope with the emerging crisis.

Although the cases are not rising at the scale witnessed in most other parts of the country, the administration is making serious efforts to ramp up testing and reinforce restrictions in migration-prone zones to contain the spread of the virus.

The government said the next four to six weeks were likely to be crucial because the number of cases was rising with many returnee migrant workers testing positive.

The authorities said that as the majority of migrants had returned from other States and abroad, detection of cases could start showing a decline when the returnees completed their quarantine period and the samples of all those with symptoms and their close contacts were tested.

As per the government’s estimate, more than 5.5 lakh Odia migrants had returned to the State by June 15. But going by the current trend, the situation is not likely to improve soon as many migrants are still returning every day.

The first COVID-19 positive case was detected in the State on March 15. On June 15, the total number of cases stood at 4,055, of which 1,951 cases were detected in the first half of June. The majority of the new cases were found in migration-prone zones. The fight against the virus has become tougher since at least 16 doctors and many paramedical staff deployed at various hospitals to treat returnee migrant workers have contracted the infection.

The administration has enforced weekend shutdown until June 30 in 11 migration-prone districts that have recorded the maximum number of cases. Quarantine measures are being enforced strictly to prevent community transmission.

The Ganjam district administration has ordered the continuation of lockdown and weekend shutdown until the end of June.

The only encouraging indication is that most of the new cases were detected in the temporary quarantine centres where returnee migrants were sent for institutional quarantine with the active participation of the panchayati raj institutions.

However, the authorities are worried about the steady increase in cases reported in the community. At least 10 per cent of the cases found in the first two weeks of June belonged to the local community outside the quarantine facilities.

Although the government had announced that aggressive contact tracing was being carried out, more and more local cases started emerging. The month of June began with 31 of the 141 positive cases tagged as locals. The subsequent days consistently recorded infection in the community putting the administration on a spot of bother. Of the 1,951 positive cases detected in the first half of June, 199 were local contacts.

Odisha, however, is not taking chances. When one COVID-19 case was found in the largest slum in Bhubaneswar, samples of 250 persons belonging to the locality were tested and all were found negative.

In a novel initiative, the government launched a special drive by engaging ASHA (accredited social health activist) and ANM (auxiliary nurse midwife) workers to undertake a door-to-door survey between June 16 and July 31 to find out if any member of any family had symptoms of COVID-19. The samples would be collected and tested immediately.

Senior officials claimed that Odisha had become a model State in managing the COVID-19 situation in the country with a high rate of testing and recovery and a low mortality rate.

With importance given to detection, testing is being conducted in 17 testing labs in 10 districts, including the Regional Medical Research Centre, Bhubaneswar. The number of samples tested had crossed two lakhs by mid-June and efforts were on to ensure that all those having symptoms or coming in contact with infected persons were tested.

As per official date provided on June 16, the government has created a bed capacity of 7,62,345 in 16,815 temporary medical centres in 6,798 gram panchayats across the State for quarantining returning migrants and providing COVID health services. However, in some migration-prone pockets the number of returnees outnumbered the beds at these centres, while in other areas the beds were vacant.

Odisha is one of the States that has borne the entire cost, from testing to treatment, of COVID patients. This is giving the people the strength to cope with the pandemic, and adhere to the restrictions that are in force to contain the infection.

The State police have won the appreciation of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik for enforcing the lockdown and weekend shutdown and making security arrangements at the quarantine centres, which have been declared containment zones.

By June 11, the police had collected Rs.1,25,84,180 as fine from people for not wearing a mask in public places. The use of mask in public was made mandatory on April 9. The police collected a fine of Rs.11,74,350 for violation of physical distancing norms. Those fined included a Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament and 20 of her party workers.

Even as it was handling the health crisis, the State government devised and implemented schemes to create employment opportunities for migrant workers and daily wagers in order to reboot the economy. It announced the creation of 20 crore mandays under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. A target has been fixed for digging 1.3 lakh farm ponds under the employment generation drive and planting 15 crore saplings by August end under the afforestation programme.

As part of its rigorous efforts to contain the pandemic, the government urged the people to self-regulate in order to save their family from coronavirus infection by using a face mask, maintaining physical distancing and following hand hygiene. It has to continue with its hard work to cope with the situation.

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