People-driven plan

The government continues to maintain a high level of surveillance with people’s involvement to stop community transmission of COVID-19 while making efforts to reboot the rural economy.

Published : Jun 29, 2020 18:50 IST

Fire service personnel spraying water on devotees to keep them cool during the rath yatra in Puri on June 23.

Fire service personnel spraying water on devotees to keep them cool during the rath yatra in Puri on June 23.

More than three and a half months into its fight against COVID-19, the Odisha government’s public awareness campaign slogan asks: “Are you going out of home to invite corona?” This sums up the State’s continuous efforts to communicate with the public to avoid community transmission of the virus.

This also demonstrates how the people of the State, having experienced many natural disasters in the past, have come together to handle another crisis with ease. The people stood behind Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik when he appealed to them in March to face the challenge posed by the pandemic by adhering to various restrictions.

Backed by different government departments that are working as a team, the people have faced the health crisis with the kind of resilience they showed during cyclones and floods in the past two decades.

The Chief Minister has been holding high-level meetings through videoconferencing to review the situation and sending video messages from time to time urging people to obey the restrictions. The communities have responded positively, thereby making Odisha stand out as a model for other States in fighting the pandemic with its people-centric approach.

The people’s trust in Naveen Patnaik’s leadership in dealing with the pandemic was evident when the administration successfully organised the annual rath yatra in Puri on June 23 within hours of the Supreme Court’s order to conduct the festival under various restrictions. The samples of 1,143 servitors and other people were tested immediately to ensure that no one with COVID-19 infection took part in the yatra rituals.

As people across the State stayed at home except for those involved in essential activities and watched the live telecast of the event, residents of Puri, too, did not go to the venue which normally attracts lakhs of devotees every year on the day of the festival. The rath yatra was not held anywhere else in the State as per the apex court’s order.

People’s cooperation helped the State cope with Cyclone Amphan in May even as it was dealing with COVID-19. Many quarantine shelters were converted into cyclone shelters and 1,855 pregnant women, whose estimated date of delivery was nearing, were shifted to nearby hospitals before the storm hit the coastal belt.

Front line workers are still engaged in the battle to contain the spread of the virus as the number of people testing positive has been growing by the day. By the last week of June, the State had more than 6,500 cases, of whom about 4,500 had recovered. It also recorded,25 deaths, seven of them owing to comorbidities.

More than eight lakh migrant Odias had returned to the State since the nationwide lockdown was enforced in March. About seven lakh of them completed their institutional quarantine at temporary quarantine centres (TMCs) by June end.

Although the arrival of migrant workers from other States had dwindled and the number of vacant beds in the TMCs set up in 6,798 gram panchayats was increasing fast or leading to closure of the TMCs in many areas, the authorities are not taking any chances.

Not ruling out the possibility of an increase in the number of cases in July, the administration has changed its approach in dealing with the situation. It has set up COVID Care Homes (CCHs) in all gram panchayats. Each CCH can accommodate 10 to 12 persons with symptoms of cold, cough and fever.

Those who test positive at the CCH are shifted to COVID Care Centres at the block level or to the exclusive COVID hospital at the district level as required. A State-wide drive has been under way since June 16 under which ASHA (accredited social health activists) and ANM (auxiliary nurse midwife) workers visit every home to find out if any member of a family had symptoms. This exercise will continue until July 31.

In order to further decentralise its COVID-19 management, the government has set up ward-level committees in urban and rural areas to monitor the situation and extend help to anyone testing positive.

As the Health Department and other wings of the administration are engaged in preventing community transmission, people are extending their full cooperation to the authorities in checking the spread of the virus.

Apart from sarpanchs and ward members, who have been actively engaged in ensuring institutional quarantine of migrants returning to their native places, lakhs of members of women’s self-help groups are making people obey physical distancing norms to prevent the spread of the disease in the rural interiors.

In fact, the situation has changed with the return of lakhs of migrant workers over a period of two months. Most of the returnees are unlikely to return to other States for work in the near future. Many of them have taken up cultivation, some of them have been given work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, but the majority of them are sitting idle. Experts feel that the State should do skill mapping of returnee migrants and create labour-intensive industries to convert the crisis into an opportunity to revive the State’s economy.

As the health care machinery continues to maintain a high level of surveillance despite many doctors and paramedical staff contracting the virus, the district administrations are busy facing the twin challenges—dealing with COVID-19 cases and rebooting the rural economy through job creation under various schemes. The local authorities are enforcing lockdown and managing containment zones in many places by involving the local people.

Odisha was the first State in the country to declare COVID-19 a State disaster. The administration’s predictive ability acquired through the lessons learned from previous calamitous situations has come in handy to deal with the current crisis. The Chief Minister commended the people for their whole-hearted cooperation in containing the spread of the disease by maintaining physical distancing and adhering to COVID-19 protocol.

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