Surge shock in Odisha

The State administration, which was not prepared for an alarming second wave, is focussed on getting its act together.

Published : May 22, 2021 06:00 IST

During the lockdown   in Bhubaneswar on May 9.

During the lockdown in Bhubaneswar on May 9.

The second wave of COVID-19 since March has claimed more lives in Odisha than the first wave last year. The pandemic has made things tough for the Naveen Patnaik government as it has spread to the rural heartland this time.

Odisha, like other States, was caught unawares when the second wave hit. COVID-19 hospitals and COVID care centres had been closed as the cases had levelled out. So when the cases started increasing all of a sudden at the grass-roots level, the administration was caught unawares.

Since then the State administration has focussed its energies on reopening COVID-19 hospitals, increasing bed strength to accommodate the infected persons, installing more ventilators, arrange medicines and other equipment, increasing testing and making attempts to procure vaccines from different sources.

Also read: Government's all round failure to manage pandemic exposed

Although official data indicates that the test positivity rate (TPR) had started declining in some States by the second week of May, the TPR in some districts of Odisha continues to be alarming. In the first week of May, Sambalpur district in the State’s western region recorded a TPR of 57.1 per cent.

In fact, western Odisha districts adjacent to Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand are experiencing a high positivity rate unlike those in the State’s coastal belt, barring the twin cities of Bhubaneswar and Cuttack. Sundargarh district, where Rourkela is situated, is another hotspot with an alarming TPR. The rural pockets of Nuapada, Kalahandi, Balangir and Nabarangpur have been equally hit. The number of active COVID-19 cases in these districts has put the existing health infrastructure under severe strain. `

Asit Tripathy, Principal Adviser to the Chief Minister and Chairman of the Western Odisha Development Council (WODC), visited Sundargarh and Bargarh districts and reviewed the COVID-19 management in the western region where the administration has been working hard to enhance the number of intensive care units (ICU) and oxygen beds in Rourkela and other places.

Tripathy pointed out that Odisha’s pandemic management under the leadership of Chief Minister Patnaik had drawn the appreciation of all. But, he said the disease was dangerous and the battle would be prolonged. The WODC has resolved to strengthen the hands of the district administration by allocating Rs.25 crore for infrastructure and urgent equipment, he tweeted.

Also read: India’s gigantic death toll due to COVID-19 is thrice the official numbers

The interventions may include an urgent creation of additional ICU and high dependency units (HDU), installation of critical diagnostic equipment required for COVID-19 specific tests and oxygen pipelines and purchase of pulse oximeters for surveillance by paramedics. The districts were given full liberty in the matter, Tripathy said.

Meanwhile, the Chief Minister sanctioned Rs.20 crore for setting up RT-PCR test centres in 16 districts to further expedite testing, which will help contain the spread of the infection. The testing service will be provided every day. One microbiologist and three lab technicians will be deployed in each of the 16 districts to ensure proper functioning of the laboratories. This is a useful initiative as people wait for several days to know the test results.

Reviewing the COVID-19 situation in the State, Naveen Patnaik asked the officials to ensure fire safety and availability of medical oxygen at the district headquarters hospitals through 24-hour monitoring. He advised strengthening of testing, tracing and containment in areas with higher caseload.

While underscoring the need to execute vaccination seamlessly with priority vaccination for the aged and vulnerable sections, Naveen Patnaik advised strict action against private hospitals that charged a high price for a vaccine dose. He directed that helplines should be made more active at COVID-19 hospitals to provide information to the patient’s family and that help should be extended to indigent and poor people through the Chief Minister's Relief Fund.

Also read: COVID second wave: Odisha thinks ahead

On March 13, there were only 65 new cases and the total number of active cases in the State was below 600. The daily tally of new cases had remained below 100 for several weeks until it crossed the 100-mark on March 19 when the number of active cases was below 1,000. But two months into the second wave, the State recorded 10,641 new cases on May 13 when the total number of active cases increased to 1,00,313 cases. Of the 5,76,297 cases detected since last year, 4,73,680 have recovered.

On the other hand, only 10 deaths owing to COVID-19 were recorded between March 13 and April 12 and the official death toll stood at 1,927 since the pandemic started in March last year. The death toll increased to 2,251 on May 13 with 19 more deaths being reported from different parts of the State.

Amar Patnaik, Rajya Sabha member of the ruling Biju Janata Dal, said in a tweet on May 12: “This wave of the pandemic has killed more people, sometimes the entire family and orphaned many more children. Government has taken proactive action to identify and take them to Child Care Centres. Let’s also come forward to help the government.”

New cases in coastal region

Khordha district, where the capital city of Bhubaneswar is located, reported the highest number of new cases in the coastal region of the State. Khordha had reported less than 10 cases on most days for several weeks until mid-March. But it has been reporting more than 1,000 cases a day on most days thereafter. The district reported 1,557 cases on May 13. The government appointed a new Commissioner for the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation on May 12 to handle the crisis in the city in an effective manner.

Also read: The fiasco that is India’s COVID-19 vaccine policy

Odisha has been under lockdown since May 5, but the TPR has not dropped significantly. According to official data, it was around 20 per cent in the second week of May. On the other hand, Odisha had been able to set a milestone in the battle against the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic by sending more than 10,000 tonnes of oxygen to 11 States. The State, however, was lacking oxygen cylinders and urged the Centre to provide 30,000 oxygen cylinders since the surplus liquid medical oxygen could not be utilised due to cylinder shortage.

Odisha Health Minister Naba Kisore Das urged the Centre to provide 25 lakh doses of Covishield vaccine as more than 22 lakh people were waiting for the second dose of the vaccine as of May 12. He also requested the Centre to provide 500 ventilators, sufficient rapid antigen test kits, five lakh PPE kits, 10 lakh gloves and 10 lakh N-95 masks.

In a situation where 26 out of the 30 districts had more than 1,000 or above active cases, reports about rising number COVID-19 infections started trickling in from remote villages, thereby making things more difficult for the State. The government decided to invite global tenders from vaccine manufacturers for procurement of vaccine. It also decided to open new COVID care centres in different regions to cope with the possible increase in caseload in the coming days.

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