Charudutta Panigrahi

I urge you to convey your appreciation for the exemplary response of Odisha government to the COVID 19 invasion. This is an example for the entire world. Fighting the deadliest war of a century with the invisible microbes and taking care of every household amongst a population of over 42 million people is scary by the sheer scale and unpredictability of the attack.

CM Naveen Patnaik Delivering Speech at Public Meeting at Sundargarh 01

As I am writing this, the Odisha government has announced a 48-hour total shutdown, which is nothing but curfew, in the state capital Bhubaneswar and Bhadrak town from today evening. It is not only because cases were detected in these two towns but also to ensure that the transmission to general population is arrested without any delay. This well informed, ready decision making of Odisha is something many states of India and many countries ( like the European countries even smaller than Odisha in size & population) need to learn. Spain is reeling under social inequality which has aggravated the situation so badly that the health care system is just not able to cope with the rising demand from COVID victims. Truth comes out under pressure and now in a city like Barcelona, there is no proper mapping of the low income, homeless people available to trace them and help. As a result the house helps, the helpers and labour sections still remain untouched by the public health systems.

In Odisha every house has been mapped, literally and that includes the slums too. Spain with equal population size of Odisha, couldn’t get enough test kits to gauge the severity and spread of COVID 19. They had a disastrous purchase of more than half a million testing kits from China. Clearly the systems have buckled under pressure or they hardly had a robust system in place, which was probably always overrated. Yesterday Surya Nagar, a posh locality of Bhubaneswar, the capital city was sealed but with adequate provisions being made for regular and interrupted supply of food and daily needs. The decision for this came swiftly after a positive case was traced in the area and a larger area in the radius of about 3 kms is now under a super lockdown. This is not only prompt decision making but unified action on the ground. Concerted and focused line of action resulting from unambiguous decision making. Unilateral attacks warrant unwavering resolve at the highest levels.

Total shutdown in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, and Bhadrak

Besides the appropriate decisions being made at the top, Odisha is spectacularly different in the way the decisions are carried out in the field. I have always maintained that the Collector and the Collector’s entire district team including the Police have made Odisha the global specialist for management of disasters – manmade or natural. Surveillance and data collation (read evidence) are the basic first steps to prepare for the battle. The much-touted world’s best health systems, USA and Italy are floundering even in the data collection on the number of people infected and how the epidemic is evolving. The data they had a few days ago, were utterly unreliable. Given the limited testings done to date, the increasing mortalities and the piling number of infections are being grossly missed. The epidemiologists, health care workers, health department heads are groping in the dark and are failing to capture infections by a factor of hundreds (2 or 200). Since four months, now (almost) even the U.S., has not been able to test a large number of people. UK completely misread the ferocity of the attack and desisted from social distancing citing “behavioural fatigue” too early. The “herd immunity” which they advocated with the belief that would reduce transmission in the wake of early recovery of younger population, boomeranged.

How South Korea fought against Coronavirus

India’s resolve among the common mass for social distancing is applaudable. We have been good citizens of the country going through the century’s pandemic. No government can succeed if you and I don’t adhere to public strategies and behaviour change. Aggressive measures by China, South Korea and Japan have been able to contain the crisis.

So far in Odisha a systematic government-led approach using all tactics and all elements available seems to be able to turn the tide – reduce future vulnerabilities too. But we face the wrath of community transmission – the phase where the affliction spreads to the general population. The head of the State, The Hon’ble Chief Minister has been leading from the front and making life easier for the citizens with offerings of both social measures, emotional appeals and humane drives. Some of them are as follows:

To reduce mobility of migrant workers/financial breather: Appeal to house owners to go easy (waive off or defer) on rents for a quarter,  three months and urging tenants to stop their mobility during the coronavirus lockdown in the country.

Last mile social security: About 36,10,797 jobless workers under MGNREGA due to 21 days lockdown need to be secured with their livelihood. Rs 380.39 crore, (one-fourth of the wage rate as per as MGNREGA Act) to be disbursed as unemployment allowance.

Support the general population: In the wake of dissipation of the CONVID, preparedness with a welfare package for the poor is essential. Rs 2,200 crore package has been allocated to deal with coronavirus related impact, specifically at the low-income groups and communities.

Specialised hospital facility for COVID : probably the first such plan in the world, Odisha is working to set up two hospitals with a total capacity of over 1000 beds to treat only coronavirus patients. Both these hospitals will be functional within a fortnight (the time of the first phase of the national lockdown).

Health care providers’ security: Odisha has announced four months’ advance salary for doctors, nurses, and other paramedical staff. The HCPs are the God sent to give us life, but their lives need to be protected and made stress free.

The appeal of the Chief Minister has been uniquely emotional akin to a patriarch’s word of caution and counselling to the Odisha family – “Safety of your family members is in your hands. Entry of the virus into your home depends on your behaviour. If you are cautious, the virus cannot enter your home. Take daily oath in the name of your parents and children that you won’t venture out of home. The novel coronavirus might come with you to your home and harm family members. Take oath to undertake 20-second hand-washing before entering home.”

So far I have not heard any head of a government appealing to each member of the household with personal advice of not to “overburden women by asking them to cook multiple times during the day as the state remained under the 21-day lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus. The lockdown is not a time to ask women to cook food three times a day and enjoy the days as holidays. People should limit the number of their food. It is already summer, and they should not be confined to the kitchen all the time. It is not a time to overburden the mothers, wives, sisters and sisters-in-law.” This kind of exceptional communication reaffirms the faith of the civil society in the system and the governance.

Such is the proactive battle readiness of Odisha that there is already an estimate that the state is likely to have a minimum 2,345 and a maximum 36,000 cases in the next month. This sort of projection has been sadly missing in most of the developed health care systems of the world. This is the time for Odisha to help India prepare for the new strains of coronavirus which are expected soon. Like Singapore, Odisha is quickly set up systems to try to identify and treat every case in the state. Because that’s the way to avoid explosive outbreaks, in spite of  surge in the number of new cases.

Odisha is quite capable of leading the R&D in Vaccines or affordable treatments and should start putting its thought together. Because they take many months (or even years) to develop and test adequately. Odisha now should not only manage but also pre-empt and develop vaccines. Our R&D portfolio also needs to be expanded, much more.

It is time for the international bodies, the UN and others to recognise Odisha as the State of Excellency – in comprehensive management of disasters (man made & natural). We have set a global benchmark. Let’s join hands with the government in testing people and tracing contacts and help in implementing more restrictive measures which include instituting quarantines, closing public spaces, banning mass gatherings, and issuing effective advice about social distancing.

This is no time to dither in self-doubt, self-pity or political guile. Let’s stand up and give Odisha a standing ovation.