COVID-19 Update

Odisha: Focus on fundamentals

Print edition : September 11, 2020

A social worker spraying a disinfectant at a village on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar on August 9. Photo: Biswaranjan Rout

Chief Minister of Odisha Naveen Patnaik speaking at the Independence Day function on August 15 in Bhubaneswar. Photo: Biswaranjan Rout

With ramped up testing, priority to plasma therapy and special attention to the worst-affected districts, the Naveen Patnaik government is confident of gaining the upper hand in the fight against the coronavirus.

Despite the spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in Odisha in the first fortnight of August, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has expressed confidence that the State will soon turn the situation around. In his address at the Independence Day celebrations, Patnaik commended the role of COVID warriors in ensuring low fatality and high recovery numbers in the State.

The Odisha government has been striving hard to extend all possible assistance to those who have contracted the infection. As the number of cases rises, the administration has ramped up testing, tracing and tracking across the State. Testing laboratories have been set up in different regions to collect and test samples. Rapid antigen testing camps have also been set up in urban areas and places with high population density.

With 50,421 tests conducted on August 16, Odisha was positioned at No. 5 in the country in terms of testing numbers. By August 17 midnight, the State had totally conducted more than 10 lakh tests. On August 18, Naveen Patnaik tweeted: “Glad to share that we have crossed one million COVID-19 test milestone. Thank everyone who worked tirelessly to scale up testing facilities in short time and ramp up testing expeditiously to intensify our fight against the pandemic and save precious lives.”

In terms of tests, Odisha was doing 1,096 COVID-19 tests per million per day, which was the highest among the larger States, according to senior government officials. The national average was 542. The officials said that the State intended to further increase testing in a phased manner and that the positivity rate had started coming down drastically.

About 10,000 tests were conducted in the State on July 21 and the number of positive cases was 1,078 with 10.78 per cent test positivity. Over the next three weeks, tests were increased to nearly 50,000. However, the number of new cases was 2,496 on August 14, and the positivity rate had come down to around 5.2 per cent. The number of positive cases per 10,000 tests had come down to around 500, and this reduction was drastic and achieved quickly, according to the senior officials.

In the second week of August, the State increased tests from around 20,000 to almost 50,000 within just five days in spite of logistical problems in the supply of test kits.

Odisha’s fatality rate, at 0.58 per cent, continues to be among the lowest in the country; dedicated hospitals, care centres and homes established across the State have made this possible. The State is giving priority to plasma therapy to save lives. As many as six plasma banks have been set up in major cities across the State and many patients have recovered completely after plasma therapy. Each plasma donor can donate up to three times and save up to six lives.

COVID-19 treatment is being provided free of cost through partnerships with reputed private hospitals. The State has set up 48 COVID hospitals and 178 COVID care centres, apart from the 17,647 temporary medical centres for quarantining migrant workers at the gram panchayat level. The government has also set up its own COVID hospitals in districts where partnership with private hospitals is not feasible.

On August 2, the government responded to the steep rise in the caseload by allowing private hospitals, nursing homes and laboratories to conduct COVID-19 tests through Rapid Antigen and reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) methods as per the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) norms.

The government instructed private health establishments to share test results with the administration before releasing the report to the person from whom the sample was collected. Private institutions could charge a maximum of Rs.450 for rapid antigen tests and Rs.2,200 for RT-PCR tests.

It was observed that non-COVID patients undergoing treatment in private hospitals became COVID-infected during the process of treatment. So on August 7, the government allowed private hospitals with 30 or more beds to treat COVID-19 patients. The hospitals were cautioned not to collect exorbitant fees and warned of strict action in case of any violation.

Meanwhile, the administration is paying special attention to worst-affected districts such as Ganjam and Khordha. Though several front-line workers have died of the disease, the high recovery rate has kept up the morale of the people.

As of August 17, Odisha had conducted 10,09,454 tests and a total of 64,533 people had been found positive. As many as 43,780 of them have recovered, while 20,338 are under treatment. A total of 415 people have died – 362 owing to COVID-19 and the remaining 53 owing to other ailments.

Economic activities are slowly reviving in the State as lockdown restrictions get lifted in phases. Of the lakhs of migrant workers who had returned home from distant towns in other States after the nationwide lockdown was announced in March, some have started returning to their places of work but the majority of them have engaged themselves in agricultural activities in their villages.

After the initial few weeks of the lockdown, the agriculture sector has displayed resilience. There has not been any report of farmers’ suicide in the State in recent months. Migrant workers face some uncertainty, but farmers in general are happy with the government’s welfare measures, in particular the Balaram scheme launched in July. Under this new scheme, the government will provide agriculture credit worth Rs.1,040 crore to seven lakh farmers in groups in the next two years.