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How Odisha is winning the coronavirus fight

By Jayajit Dash
April 14, 2020 08:36 IST
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From announcing a lockdown and extending its tenure, setting up the country’s first two exclusive Covid-19 hospitals, creating a hotspot zone, providing doorstep medical service and making masks compulsory, the state is doing all it can to dwarf the virus, reports Jayajit Dash

IMAGE: A medical worker collects a sample from a child for COVID-19 testing during the nationwide lockdown in Bhubaneswar. Photograph: ANI Photo

In May 2019, when Cyclone Fani pounded Odisha’s coast, state authorities showed exemplary preparedness in taming it by evacuating 1.2 million people to higher ground.

By then, Odisha had won plaudits for its disaster management efforts. Months later, when a virulent coronavirus disease disquieted nations beyond borders, Odisha lost no time to declare it a ‘state disaster’ on March 13.

 

Odisha’s Chief Secretary Asit Tripathy said, “While Odisha is comparatively better placed, we did see a few cases of local/cluster transmission. While these areas have been contained, the overall positive
cases have increased, albeit slowly. Additionally, the relaxation of the lockdown would have resulted in a surge in intra- and inter-state movement of people, leading to increased risk. It was, therefore, felt that the two-pronged approach of increased testing across the state, coupled with additional two weeks of lockdown, will help flatten the curve.”

In thwarting the pandemic, Odisha has many firsts to its credit -- announcing a lockdown and extending its tenure, setting up the country’s first two exclusive Covid-19 hospitals with combined bed strength of 1,000, creating a hotspot zone, providing doorstep medical service, making masks compulsory, and even announcing a grant for stray animals.

But all efforts to dwarf the virus did not let complacency seep in. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik realised his was a tough call to defer the lockdown timeline. He had a bitter pill to swallow while deciding between ‘saving lives’ and ‘keeping the economy buzzing’. “I know it involves a lot of sacrifice, hardship, and uncertainty, but this is the only way to face this crisis,” Patnaik said in a message imbued with emotion.

“It was a difficult decision. A number of factors -- economy, trade, livelihood, and health -- contributed to the decision. There will be a few relaxations in the primary sector -- the entire value chain of
agriculture, horticulture, and allied activities as well as animal husbandry -- which will be allowed to operate with adequate precaution and social distancing,” said Tripathy.

On average, Odisha has been testing 400 samples per day over the past week. The state now has the capacity of testing 1,000 cases per day. With the addition of MKCG, Berhampur, and VIMSAR, Burla, this will get further enhanced. Additionally, the Institute of Life Sciences, Bhubaneswar, and Apollo will also start testing in the next few days. More than 1,00,000 rapid diagnostic kits are being procured and testing across the state is being scaled up.

As on April 13, Odisha has tested 4,170 samples of suspected Covid-19 cases. Fifty five of them have been detected positive. With just one casualty, 13 people have been discharged, leaving 41 active cases.

Economic activity has come to a grinding halt. Most of the industrial units are operating at ramped-down capacities. Mining and tourism, both mainstays in Odisha’s economy, are on their knees. Yet, all are in unison with the state government’s decision to defer the lockdown.

“Small traders in Odisha are in dire straits. Once they restart, they will lack capital and the government needs to bail them out,” said Sudhakar Panda, general secretary, Odisha Traders Union.

Core industrial activity in Odisha has dwindled, with the state largely shuttered, except for essential goods and services. Roads on the iron ore-rich Joda-Keonjhar belt wear a desolate look.

The state government should map out strategies to revive economic growth concomitant with the fight against Covid, say industry observers.

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Jayajit Dash
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