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Sanjeev Kumar Patro

Bhubaneswar: As the Covid-19 count in the State is seen zipping up fast towards the 500-mark (461 new positives) on day one of April, western Odisha with over 54 per cent burden in the new caseload has apparently emerged as the coronavirus epicentre in the State.

Even the Minister of State (Home) Dibya Shankar Mishra in a statement in Odisha Assembly today conceded that the cases of Covid-19 are on the ascent in the State and western Odisha has been the major contributor to the rising caseload.

However, the Minister has made a very interesting declaration on the floor of the House that a cricket tournament in Raipur has been the triggering factor of Covid-19 in western Odisha.

DID CRICKET LAY THE COVID PITCH IN ODISHA?

As per the information collected, minister Divya Shankar Mishra is referring to the Road Safety World Cricket Series 2020-21that was played between March 5-21at Raipur's Saheed Veer Narayan Singh International Cricket Stadium. All the matches were played in the night hours.

Significantly, this Road Safety series has been the deferred season of the first season that was scheduled for last year but postponed due to the pandemic.

Interestingly, master blaster Sachin Tendulkar has been the brand ambassador of the tournament and batting maestro Sunny Gavaskar has been the commissioner.

For the first time, this high-profile series has been organised in a Chhattisgarh stadium that has a capacity of 65k.

With the cricketing giants like Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh,  Jonty Rhodes, Brett Lee and Muttiah Muralitharan were in action, and when the price to view a match is as low as Rs 50 (the highest price is 500 plus GST), youths from the districts like Nuapada, Bargarh and Kalahandi that have close proximity to Raipur, swarmed to Chhattisgarh to become a part of the thrilling games.

Significantly, the master blaster who was in action in the tournament has only recently tested Covid-19 positive.

DID CRICKET PLAY COVID-19 INTO ODISHA?

Though health experts in the Odisha Health  Department have cautioned the State government as early as February 15 over the resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Chhattisgarh and its impact on western Odisha, the State government on Feb 26 had put in some restrictions like 7-day home isolation, RT-PCR tests at airports and railway stations for the travellers coming from states like Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab.

However, the timeline shows the cricket series started on March 6 in Chhattisgarh. This shows the Covid-19 restrictions put forth by the State government has not been implemented on the travellers via road. And the roads became the red carpet for the coronavirus to Odisha.

THE GAME OF COVID AND CRICKET

Even as the last week of February saw the Covid-19 spike in western Odisha, where districts like Sambalpur, Sundargarh and Bargarh had contributed nearly 30-35 per cent of State's new caseload, the caseload in western Odisha since mid-march (coincided with the cricket matches) have been over half of the total new cases in Odisha.

SAMPLE THE EVIDENCE

The new cases in Nuapada, Kalahandi and Bargarh - the new hotspots in western Odisha - were having new cases in the range of 1-15, respectively, till March 11-12.

Cut to April 1. The new cases in Nuapada stood at 86, Kalahandi at 36 and Bargarh at 32.

Sundargarh had been witnessing around 20-30 cases in Feb last week. And the cases today have jumped to 62.

Following the big spurt in the new cases during the last week of March in western Odisha, health experts see a quite clear link between the Covid-19 overdrive and the cricket match. But this link also sheds light on the laxity in the implementation of Covid-19 rules on the ground.

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