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Devbrat Patnaik

By Devbrat Patnaik

Infamous among many as the ‘Chinese’ virus – the lethal Covid-19 made its way into Odisha from Italy via New Delhi in March this year. Nine months into the outbreak of the pandemic in the State, and all eyes are now on the new UK variant genome knocking at the doors of 2021, threatening to cause a dent in an already dented ‘lives and livelihood’ of all and sundry.

HOW COVID-19 UNFOLDED IN ODISHA?

First case in Odisha: The State reported the first case of novel coronavirus (n-CoV) infection on March 15 after a researcher who had returned from Italy was found positive when his samples were tested at the Regional Medical Research Centre in Bhubaneswar.

The 33-year-old patient reached Delhi from Italy on March 6 and travelled to Bhubaneswar by train on March 12. Showing signs of fever and headache, the person consulted a doctor, tested positive and was treated at the Capital Hospital.

And with the emergence of n-CoV, simultaneously began the contact tracing exercise in the State, days before a three-week nationwide lockdown was enforced to curb the spread of the virus.

First Death: Odisha registered its first Covid death when a septuagenarian in Bhubaneswar succumbed to the virus on April 6.

By the time the first case was reported, the state control rooms were already functional, while capacity building, hygiene awareness campaigns, hand washing, sanitisation, social distancing, use of face masks and respiratory etiquette were also in place.

BEGAN THE ERA OF MANDATORY MASK, PHYSICAL DISTANCING

'Do gaj ki doori' and 'Mask zaroori', is what Prime Minister Narendra Modi said to the nation while highlighting the social distancing mantra to combat COVID-19. There's a need to maintain social distancing, wearing masks, and abide by all safety protocols in place amid the Covid pandemic. "We can safeguard our health by observing do gaj ki doori, mask zaroori, by following social distancing norms and ensure strict compliance to government guidelines till the time vaccine is developed," the PM said. To implement the same, Odisha introduced penalty for violators and if reports are anything to go by, the police have collected crores of rupees as penalty from people flouting Covid norms.

[caption id="attachment_456289" align="aligncenter" width="750"]Widespread Face Mask Use Can Prevent Covid-19 Second Wave MASK UP[/caption]

MIGRANT INFLUX TAKES CENTRE STAGE

More than the pandemic woes, the hunger situation post loss of employment forced the migrant exodus across states in India. Expecting a massive influx, Odisha government too, like other States, prepared a road map to bring back migrant workers stuck outside and initiated registration in the government portal.

[caption id="attachment_505478" align="aligncenter" width="750"] Migrants reach destination in Odisha[/caption]

Before the lockdown was lifted, Odisha had set up 26 dedicated COVID-19 hospitals with a total of 4,470 beds; and seven dedicated COVID-19 health centres with 926 beds. The government also readied 15,867 temporary medical centres in 6,798 panchayats where around seven lakh beds were arranged to serve COVID-19 patients. This apart, quarantine centres for Odia migrants returning to the State from outside, were set up in each panchayat, with an assurance that the government would provide food and basic care for those housed there.

Throwback | Ganjam’s COVID Fate In The Hands of Migrant Workers!

When the first batch of Odia migrant labourers reached Odisha from Surat On April 29, the State had only 125 COVID-19 positives. However, the number of infections jumped close to 2000 within a span of one month. Blame it on the ‘mismanagement’ or the unruly attitude of migrants, such was the scenario that many migrants fled quarantine centres and a few pulled chain of Shramik Specials in which they were being brought back. Needless to say, managing the exodus turned out to be a herculean task for the government.

[caption id="attachment_505524" align="aligncenter" width="750"] Migrants from Thane, Maharashtra reach Khurda road junction in Shramik Special train[/caption]

Later in June, the State government launched an air evacuation mission to bring back persons stranded abroad and in remote parts of the country where train services were not available and also travelling by road was not possible.

In the monsoon session of the Odisha assembly in September, State Labour minister Susanta Singh said about 8.5 lakh migrants had returned to Odisha – maximum of them have returned from the States of Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Kerala in 277 special trains. However, the State had no concrete details about the number of labourers, migrant workers, professionals, students and patients among the returnees.

GANJAM - FROM GREEN TO RED TO GREEN ZONE

With lakhs of migrants returning to their native villages, Odisha’s most populous district Ganjam which had not reported even a single case of Covid-19 till May bore the brunt of the influx from then COVID-19 hotspots like Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Telangana in over 200 Shramik trains and 1000 buses.

[caption id="attachment_505481" align="aligncenter" width="750"] District administrative officials screen migrants after their arrival[/caption]

The district remained Covid-free for more than a month after lockdown but the situation went out of hands and soon cases exploded. In just a span of a week, Ganjam overtook other districts to become the worst-affected hotspot.

When Bhubaneswar-based Institute of Life Sciences (ILS) tried to find the reason behind the sudden explosion, it was found that the strain of the virus in Ganjam was ‘highly infectious and very virulent’ compared to other strains the state could isolate. Jayant Panda, the government’s technical adviser, stated that it was a strain that people who had returned from Surat and Ahmedabad had brought in and the data revealed by district administration also mentioned 2 lakh of the 4 lakh-odd returnees who came to Ganjam were from Gujarat.

Throwback | Migrants ‘Pull Chain’ Of Odisha Govt’s COVID Containment Measures

Courtesy the districts which received the maximum number of migrants, the virus soon spread its tentacles at such a pace that infection rate multiplied manifolds. Reports suggest that Odisha took 114 days to register its first 10,000 cases, and in the next 15 days, the State added another 10,000 cases to the positive tally, and the rate only swelled from there.

By August 1, Ganjam alone had reported 10,364 Covid cases and 100 deaths. Next in the list was Khordha district which was a distant second with 4,200 cases and 30 deaths by then.

There are other factors too which compounded Ganjam’s crisis situation. Even though the administration had enforced 14 days of mandatory quarantine for all returnees, alleged lapses in enforcement of the same proved fatal. Several instances cropped in where people did not follow the administrative orders strictly and even sneaked out to spend the night at home with family.

The alarming situation prevailed for several days but was brought back under control with strictest implementation of all guidelines in place, door-to-door health screening and reinforcement of health infra by deploying senior officials, doctors and technicians. As of now, Ganjam has detected 21,805 positive cases of which 21532 have already recuperated from the disease. The only worrying fact is 246 patients succumbed to Covid and eight others died due to other co-morbidities. With only 19 active caseload at present, the district remains safe as a Green Zone.

COVID PEAK IN ODISHA

The second half of September turned out to be a nightmare for people in Odisha. With increased sample testing, the positivity rate also jumped drastically. Such was the uptrend that the coastal state constantly registered over 4k daily cases and on September 24-25 highest single-day spike of 4,340 infections was witnessed. The daily toll also stood above 15 for many days during the phase. As per government sources, apart from 50 dedicated Covid hospitals with ICU beds, the state had set up 17,647 Temporary Medical Centres (TMCs) and 178 Covid Care Centres (CCCs) to deal with the pandemic.

RISE OF KHORDHA

Khordha district, which is home to the administrative capital city of Bhubaneshwar, saw a massive spike in August-September. The capital city had registered 894 cases between June 17 and July 17, 4444 more positive cases in the following one month and witnessed a surge of 11,808 positives between August 17 and September 17, 2020. The cases were just no longer limited to Tablighis and people in quarantine as contact transmission posed a major threat after curbs were lifted in a gradual manner.

Not that the entire city was in the grip of the virus, but official sources said a few pockets of Bhubaneswar were more prone to infection. In August, as per the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC) authorities, the COVID-19 trend was at its peak in Bhubaneswar, thanks to violation of norms by the fellow citizens. The state capital has so far seen 31,593 cases and deaths of 239 positive patients. The active case count stood at 271 on Wednesday (Dec 30) while the recovered case tally is at 31,062.

[caption id="attachment_481499" align="aligncenter" width="750"] Health screening of Bhubaneswar residents[/caption]

With 52,685 positive cases as on December 31, Khordha is far ahead of other districts. Cuttack stands at a distant second with 28,173 positives so far. The relief is Khordha’s caseload has come down to 128 while that of Cuttack is 176. The districts combined, have seen the death of 460 Covid patients.

RETURN OF THE GUEST WORKERS

The return of migrant labourers to their turf exceeded the pace at which they had rushed to Odisha. The state government had assured that it would bear all expenses including food and accommodation at the quarantine facilities. Further, an incentive of Rs 2,000 was promised to each individual who completed the quarantine process. To further strengthen the battle at the grassroots, the State government bestowed the village heads with the power of district collector. But an alleged failure on part of the government to generate alternate employment opportunities for them all but exposed the gloomy picture of how COVID-19 left a dent in the economic condition and claims of a planned management.

Throwback | COVID-19 Quarantine: Problems Migrants Back In Odisha Face

Noteworthy to mention, the state government unveiled a Rs 17,000-crore plan to support the livelihood of people, including farmers and migrant workers, hit hard by the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic and long spells of lockdown. CM Naveen announced a Rs 100-crore ‘urban wage employment initiative’ to create employment opportunities for the livelihood-deprived urban poor. Besides, the then Chief Secretary Asit Tripathy directed Collectors to take up more employment-intensive projects for the returnees under the MGNREGA and Odisha Livelihood Mission (OLM). However, with no or very less progress, the migrants again left to where they had come from to eke out a living. The fear of Covid-19 infections might have forced them to return to their native places, but lack of employment opportunities forced them to embark on a reverse journey to their workplace.

TRIBUTE TO CORONA WARRIORS

On the Janta Curfew day on March 22, PM Modi got the nation together to show gratitude to the doctors, nurses and all emergency workers leading the battle against coronavirus. As appealed by the Prime Minister, people stood on the balconies and outside their homes to ring bells or clap hands for five minutes at 5 PM. Such was the tribute gesture that many continued it for an hour or more.

Taking a cue from the PM, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik also appealed to the Odias across the globe to recite 'Bande Utkala Janani' in honour of the State's frontline workers and all corona warriors.

As per the State health department’s data, so far close to 10,000 Covid warriors including doctors, nurses, other health care personnel and government employees on Covid duty have been infected by the virus. As of now, more than 60 frontline workers including doctors, police personnel and journalists have succumbed to Covid-19 in Odisha. In honour of the supreme sacrifice and the selfless work done by the frontline workers, the Naveen Patnaik-led government has provided compensation to the family members of all Covid warriors who died in the line of duty.

COVID HEROES

Ollywood actor Sabyasachi Mishra has been a real-life hero for many. Not only did he assist people in medical emergencies, but he also helped stranded migrants and students who were desperate to get back to home State- Odisha. His engrossment in top-notch social work activities ever since the lockdown came into force, earned him the title of Messiah For Migrants.

[caption id="attachment_505486" align="aligncenter" width="750"] Sabyasachi 'The Messiah' with the migrants (Image - Gaurav Das/Twitter)[/caption]

Not all heroes wear capes. Nilachala Parida – a mountaineer from Bhubaneswar started selling vegetables outside his house during lockdown to raise funds to help government in the Covid battle. Odisha produced a healthy number of good Samaritans apart from various social organisations who have helped thousands of people in distress.

CASES DECLINED

Amid projection of a second wave by mid-December, touchwood, Odisha was able to turn the tables. Cases started declining by November and the curve maintained a downward trend with daily positives below 500 for close to a month now. Daily cases dropped below 1000 on November 13 and have stood below 500 since the beginning of December.

FINAL NAIL IN THE COFFIN

Just when things seemed to be completely under control, an uninvited mutated strain of SARS-CoV-2 reported from the United Kingdom knocked at the doors. While experts claim that the strain has been implicated to have higher transmissibility as compared to the earlier strains, Director of Public Health, Dr Niranjan Mishra informed that as many as 62 of the total 181 persons who have returned to Odisha from the UK between November 30 and December 21 have gone untraceable. "119 UK returnees have undergone COVID-19 tests and only six (three each in Bhubaneswar and Jagatsinghpur) have tested positive for the virus. Their genome sequencing is being done to ascertain the possibility of finding the new strain of the coronavirus. The 62 returnees are not picking up their phones. They might have provided false information in their declaration forms which is why it is difficult to trace them," Dr Mishra said.

2020 REBOUND! WELCOME 2021 BUT WITH PRECAUTIONS

People are eager to welcome a new year, but they must not overlook the fact that Covid hasn't disappeared. The virus hardly is aware when to bid adieu. But let's not get worried. Make sure you maintain good hygiene, hand sanitisation, physical distancing, wearing of masks. Mask up, stay safe and save all from the deadly infection. Countless days of fear and fury, this generation will never forget 2020 - a year immensely dominated by Covid-19 (Novel Coronavirus).

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