Lockdown Effect: How Odisha kept people off the 'Coronavirus' grip

Odisha has many firsts to its credit — announcing a lockdown and extending its tenure, setting up the country’s first 2 Covid-exclusive hospitals with combined bed strength of 1,000, and creating a hotspot zone. Photo: Twitter
Back in May 2019, the devastating cyclonic storm Fani pounded Odisha’s coast, the state authorities showed exemplary preparedness to deal with it by evacuating 1.2 million vulnerable people to safer zones.

By then, Odisha had grabbed the plaudits to deal with natural disasters. Months later, when a virulent Coronavirus disquieted nations beyond borders, Odisha lost no time to declare it a ‘state disaster’ on March 13 and switched on the war mode to save lives. The state machinery acknowledged ‘social isolation’ as the only ammunition to vanquish the virus and locked down people indoors for three weeks only to postpone their ‘home quarantine’ longer.

Asit Tripathy, Odisha’s Chief Secretary said, “While Odisha is comparatively better placed than some of the other affected states in terms of numbers, we did see a few cases of local/cluster transmission in some of the pockets in the state where positive Covid cases have been identified. While these areas have been contained as per guidelines, the overall positive cases in the state have increased – although slowly. Additionally, the relaxation of the lockdown would have resulted in sudden surge in intra and inter-state movement of people, leading to increased risk of spread of Covid-19. 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 and reduce the possibility of the transmission of virus significantly”.

Noted ad guru Suhel Seth tweeted, “What Odisha thinks today, India thinks tomorrow”. And, he is not amplifying the state’s efforts. Punjab and Maharashtra were quick to follow suit and announce enforcement of lockdown till April 30.

In thwarting Coronavirus, Odisha has many firsts to its credit - announcing a lockdown and extending its tenure, setting up the country’s first two exclusive Covid hospitals with combined bed strength of 1000 in an astonishingly brief span of a week, creating hotspot zone, providing doorstep medical service, making masks compulsory for people commuting in public and even announcing grant for stray animals.

But all colossal efforts to dwarf the deadly 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 people’s lives’ and ‘keeping the economy buzzing’. And, he chose the former without compunctions. “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 emotions.

“It was a difficult decision to say the least. A number of factors – economy, trade, livelihood and most importantly for now, the health of the people of the state – contributed to the decision. There will be a few relaxations with regards to the primary sector – the entire value chain of agriculture, horticulture & allied activities as well as animal husbandry – which will be allowed to operate with adequate precautions and social distancing. Movement of goods and cargo is allowed as earlier”, Tripathy said.

On an average, Odisha has been testing 400 samples per day over the last week. The state now has capacity of testing 1000 cases per day. With the addition of MKCG, Berhampur and VIMSAR, Burla, this will get further enhanced. Additionally, Institute of Life Sciences (ILS), Bhubaneswar and Apollo Hospital will also start testing in the next few days. More than a lakh of rapid diagnostic kits are being procured and testing across the State is being scaled up significantly

As on April 13, Odisha has tested 4170 samples of suspected Covid cases. Fifty five (55) of them have been detected to be positive. With just one casualty, 13 people have been discharged, leaving 40 active cases.

Economic activity save movement of essential goods and services has come to a standstill. Small traders are in an abyss of despair. 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 after the lockdown ends, they will lack capital and the government needs to bail them out with a special package. But all said and done, it’s a good decision by the state government to extend this lockdown phase to tackle this unprecedented pandemic”, said Sudhakar Panda, general secretary, Odisha Byabasayee Mahasangha (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 that were abuzz with activity with the movement of ore laden trucks now wear a desolate look. Merchant mine leases are largely deserted sans availability of people or trucks.

Industry observers, however, feel with grimmer priorities, economic activity can be subservient to the efforts to battle a deadly virus. The state government, though, should map out strategies to revive economic growth concomitant with the fight against Covid, they reasoned.

“By taking timely steps & some steps ahead Odisha has been able to contain Covid-19 cases and the curve is flattening. Gains made need to be consolidated & virus contained by extending lock down up to April 30 followed by appropriate exit strategy. Containment need to be concurrent with V model economic recovery strategy With special focus on MSMEs (micro, small & medium enterprises) to make post Corona effect short & less misery for poor & vulnerable section of society”, said T K Chand, industry expert and former Chairman of Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Odisha chapter.

The state authorities are unsure if this lockdown could be stretched further.

“It is too early to predict or comment on what the Covid-19 situation in Odisha and across India will be in the last week of April. It is only then that a decision on further course of action will be taken, in consultation with public health experts and deliberations within the state government. On the economy front, as I mentioned earlier, the primary sector will be opened up. The focus of the government is on facilitating harvesting of Rabi crops, procurement of food grains and sowing of Kharif crops. The secondary sector and especially the MSMEs will be opened up in phases, with the intent of restarting production and thus the economy. Industrial Units/ MSME units who can ensure that workers will stay within the industrial premises/industrial estates and adhere to social distancing norms will be allowed to start operations. We are also discussing a phased relaxation for retail and trade. The focus will be on ensuring that adequate labour force is available for the agriculture, horticulture, fisheries, animal husbandry etc as well for industries and MSME units”, Tripathy said.

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