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Sandeep Sahu

News Highlights

  • Corona has expectedly taken a backseat in the coastal belts.

  • There is little doubt that cyclone shelters are going to be super spreaders.

  • It’s a Real Devil vs Deep Sea situation.

Move over Covid-19; Cyclone ‘Yaas’ is here! With the ‘very severe cyclonic storm’ in the Bay of Bengal all set to wreak havoc on the northern coast, Corona has expectedly taken a backseat in the state – at least along the coast and for the time being.

This is evident not just in the suspension of testing and vaccination in the three districts likely to be worst hit by the cyclone – Balasore, Bhadrak and Mayurbhanj. Right through the day, TV cameras beamed tell-tale proof of how Covid protocols have gone out of the window in the face of the exigencies of the more immediate threat; the cyclone. Forget wearing double masks as per the appeal of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. In cyclone shelter after cyclone shelter, people were seen without masks and huddled together, making a mockery of social distancing norms. Asked about it, a man in charge of a cyclone shelter openly expressed his helplessness in ensuring that the norms are followed. Given the fact that those brought to the shelters have to stay put till the storm blows over completely, there is little doubt that the shelters are going to be super spreaders of the virus.

In fact, the first signs that ‘Covid appropriate behaviour’ has been sacrificed at the altar of the cyclone threat, even if only temporarily, were evident on Monday itself when the government decided to ease the lockdown restrictions by increasing the window for purchase of essential items by two hours in 10 coastal districts on Monday and Tuesday in view of the approaching ‘Yaas’. Covid norms were flouted with impunity and the police were in no mood to enforce adherence. The scenes seen at marketplaces on Monday made it hard to believe that there was a lockdown in force in these places.

But it was only to be expected. It is impractical to expect people to follow the Covid protocol strictly when a cyclone is threatening their life and limb.  Asked by a TV reporter if she does not fear getting infected, a woman at a cyclone shelter quipped; “I certainly do. But what does one do? If I had stayed back at home, I would perhaps have been blown away by the cyclone.” It’s a real Devil vs Deep Sea situation, to be honest.

Even for those engaged in rescue and evacuation operations, it is simply not possible to adhere to the norms at all times. And that puts them at great risk, especially considering the fact that the new mutant strains of the virus are deadlier than the one seen in the first wave – as NDRF chief Satya Narayan Pradhan readily admitted. How, for example, does one shift a 90-year-old woman to a cyclone shelter while strictly following the norms? How does one ensure that social distancing norms are followed strictly when hundreds of people – children among them – are put up at one small place? How can Covid positive people kept segregated from the unaffected, especially if they are asymptomatic? And how does one deal with someone who, God forbid, gets infected or develops symptoms while staying at a shelter? It’s a real scary situation, to be honest.

Even before the cyclone, we have seen over the last three weeks (since the lockdown was clamped across the state) how difficult it is to ensure adherence to Covid appropriate behaviour, whether by decree or by persuasion. As a result, the daily positive count has stubbornly refused to go below the 10,000 mark for weeks now. The cyclone has only made things more difficult. One doesn’t really have to be a health expert to foresee that there would be a further spurt in the positive cases after the storm has blown over.

For a state already grappling with the second wave of Covid, the cyclone could not have come at a worse time!

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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