With Odisha’s COVID-19 infections increasing dramatically in the third week of April, the Naveen Patnaik government has stepped up both its administrative and infrastructure responses to combat the second wave of the pandemic.
On March 19, the total number of COVID-19 cases reported in the State crossed the 100 mark. Since then, fresh cases have been steeply rising every day, to end up at 4,445 on April 20. In the process, it surpassed the first wave’s highest single-day spike of 4,356, recorded on September 26, 2020.
This time, Odisha seems to have taken a cautious approach and has not resorted to harsh measures such as blanket lockdowns, keeping the adverse impact on people’s livelihoods in mind.
During the first wave, Odisha’s tally had suddenly gone up because of the arrival of migrant labourers in large numbers. But, the second wave in the State has been triggered by a sharp rise in cases in neighbouring Chhattisgarh.
The 10 western and southern districts bordering Chhattisgarh started reporting coronavirus cases from the beginning of April. A T20 cricket tournament held at Raipur during the second and third week of March was widely perceived to be the trigger. Spectators in thousands watched the matches without wearing masks. The low ticket price prompted people from bordering Odisha districts to see the tournament.
Initially, increased infection rates were reported from districts such as Sundargarh, Nuapada, Kalahandi and Bargarh which shared the border with Chhattisgarh. Khordha district, which includes Bhubaneswar, was affected because of the movement of people.
The first major restrictive measure was announced by Odisha on April 4 when it imposed night curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. in the 10 districts bordering Chhattisgarh. Two weeks later, the duration of night curfew was increased by four hours in these districts.
Subsequently, night curfew was enforced in all urban areas of Odisha and weekend lockdown was declared in the urban areas of the 10 affected districts. In order to prevent the further spread of the virus, inter-State bus movement was halted from April 19. Taking a cue from the Central Education Ministry, the State government also postponed Standard X and XII examinations.
On April 9, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik addressed the State, urging people to compulsorily wear masks for the next 14 days if they wanted to avoid a lockdown. At the same time, he instructed the State police to collect double the fine from people not wearing masks.
The sudden rise in new COVID cases in western Odisha districts did create panic as COVID-19 patients were seen lying in hospital verandahs and campuses. But, the government announced that beds for COVID-19 patients would be increased four-fold.
Though the second wave touched Odisha late, the government did not take its eyes off the vaccination programme. Odisha is one of the best performing States as far as the vaccination programme is concerned.
Patnaik also wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, suggesting that COVID-19 vaccines be made available outside the government supply chain in the open market so that willing citizens who can afford vaccines can access them. He emphasised rational vaccine distribution with a focus on metropolises that hugely contributed to COVID-19 caseload. Any lockdown in these areas would have an impact on the rest of the country in terms of labour movement, he said.
As the second wave swept across the country, people called for a halt to political campaigning in West Bengal. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took the lead by suspending all his political rallies in West Bengal. Patnaik soon declared that his party would not hold any public rallies or campaign meetings for the byelection in Pipili Assembly seat. “BJD, as a responsible party, would not like to put the lives of people in danger. We contest elections to serve people. If the campaign has the potential to endanger lives, I would earnestly appeal to political parties and the Election Commission of India to reconsider both the duration and method of campaigning,” said Patnaik.
The Pipili byelection, which was scheduled to be held on April 17, was postponed following the death of the Congress candidate Ajit Mangaraj becaue of COVID-19. It will now be held on May 13.