COVID-19 Update

Odisha: The going gets tough

Print edition : July 31, 2020

At a quarantine centre at Remuli in Keonjhar district in Odisha on July 7. Photo: Biswaranjan Rout

As more and more COVID-19 positive cases get detected outside quarantine centres in Odisha, the Naveen Patnaik government takes stringent measures to prevent community spread.

With the spread of COVID-19 showing no sign of abating, the Odisha government, which has been tackling the crisis since March by involving the public in a big way, is taking all possible measures to keep the situation under control. In terms of fighting the pandemic and rebooting the economy, July has been the harshest month for Odisha so far. A large number of COVID-19 positive cases have been detected outside quarantine centres since the beginning of the month.

On July 7, the State saw the highest single-day spike of 571 positive cases; of these, 403 were in quarantine centres. The number of cases being detected outside quarantine centres has been one-third of the total number of the new cases.

“Odisha is in a crucial phase in the fight against COVID-19 and hence it is very essential that we all obey guidelines and regulations issued by State government to contain the spread of COVID-19. Violation of the same would lead to strong action,” said Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik in a Twitter post on July 4.

Patnaik’s tweet was in response to one by the Superintendent of Police of Ganjam district which read: “In a case of viral video of a marriage procession inside a hotel prima facie it reveals that COVID guidelines have been flouted. A case has been registered at Gopalpur police station and two persons have been arrested. Investigation continues. We request all not to flout COVID guidelines.” Five persons, including the groom and his father, were arrested and two vehicles were seized.

With 2,621 cases, Ganjam district has emerged as a major COVID-19 hotspot in the State. The remaining 29 districts accounted for 7,476 cases as of July 7.

Khordha (1,029 cases) and Cuttack (855 cases) are two other districts that reported the most number of cases. The capital city, Bhubaneswar, is in Khordha. By the first week of July, 54 people had died and 6,486 of the total 10,097 cases had recovered in the State.

As the situation turned worse in Ganjam, the State government posted two Indian Administrative Service officers as Special Additional District Collectors in the Chatrapur and Bhanjanagar subdivisions of the district. The police, too, enhanced their presence in the district by deputing four officers of the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police and four more platoons. In early July, Ganjam lost four COVID warriors—two school teachers, a junior engineer and an Anganwadi worker—who were on duty at different quarantine centres.

Hospitals as hotspots

Many hospitals in the State too have turned into hotspots. Between them, the Acharya Harihar Post Graduate Institute of Cancer and the SCB Medical College and Hospital, both at Cuttack, and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Bhubaneswar, reported over 160 cases among patients, paramedical staff and doctors.

The fear of coronavirus also struck the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Post Graduate Institute of Paediatrics, Cuttack, following the treatment of a COVID-19 patient at a fever clinic located on its premises. The authorities recently sealed off a private hospital in Bhubaneswar, where 27 persons, including many of its employees, had been infected. The hospital had reportedly treated a patient without conducting the COVID-19 test.

In view of the surge in the number of cases, the State government has ramped up testing and started conducting rapid antigen tests in Ganjam, Bhubaneswar and Cuttack. Such tests will be conducted in other districts in the next phase. More than three lakh samples had been tested by the first week of July.

The State Health Department is also considering allowing private hospitals to procure antigen kits and screen people who are willing to get tested. The administration will fix a reasonable rate for the test. Efforts are also on to launch plasma therapy in four major hospitals in the State for the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress, however, alleged mismanagement in the quarantine centres of migrants who had returned to the State. Many of them had tested positive after coming home from the quarantine centres, the opposition parties alleged.

Violations during Unlock

In fact, in the initial weeks of the fight against the pandemic, the government had received wholehearted support from the people. But the number of violations increased during the unlock phases, resulting in more cases being detected among the local people.

The administration has also resorted to periodic shutdowns in many urban areas, including Berhampur, Cuttack, Bhubaneswar and Sambalpur. A two-day weekend shutdown is also being enforced in 14 districts until July end to prevent community spread of the virus.

Although the inflow of migrants from other States is on the decline, the State government has written to the Centre to restrict the number of passenger trains and flights from hotspot cities in the country to Odisha during Unlock 0.2.

The authorities, who successfully conducted the rath yatra of Lord Jagannath with restrictions imposed by the Supreme Court, have been limiting the entry of people into the thickly populated coastal town of Puri to prevent the spread of the virus.

Thanking the people of Puri and all those who took part in the smooth conduct of the rath yatra, the Chief Minister issued a video message on July 6 stating that Puri had shown the way to win the war against the deadly virus. Listing out three mantras of “sacrifice, self-restraint, and discipline” to win the fight against COVID-19, Patnaik urged the people to adhere to the norms of social distancing, handwashing and wearing of masks to keep the virus at bay until a vaccine was launched.