Is Odisha leading the fight against COVID-19?
By: Dr. Jalandhar Pradhan*, Mr. Niranjan Bariyar and Dr. Madhulika Sahoo
The first case of COVID-19 outbreak was reported in India on 30 January 2020 in Kerala, while Odisha, an eastern state of India, reported its first case on 15 March 2020 when the national figure was still 123 (India Today, 2020). Odisha has learned its lesson well from the previous experiences of disasters triggered by hazards (e.g. cyclone, flood, drought). Lessons learnt from previous disasters gave an advantage to the State Government to prepare for and respond to COVD-19, which we have discussed at length below.
According to the latest figures from the Government of Odisha’s Department of Health and Family Welfare, on 6 May 2020, there were 178 total number of COVID-19 cases in Odisha, of which 116 were active cases, 60 people have been cured/discharged, and 2 people had died(Department of Health and Family Welfare, 2020a). Initially, the most number of cases sparked from Khurdha district (47 cases) but by the end of April 2020, Jajpur district climbed to 53 followed by the districts of Balasore (24 cases) and Bhadrak (21 cases).
In Odisha, as of 5 May 2020, a total of 47,454 samples had been tested, out of which 0.37 percent had tested positive (Department of Health and Family Welfare, 2020b). The state figure is minuscule when compared to the national figures. India has recorded 49,391 positive cases with 14,183 being recovered and a death toll of 1,694(Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, 2020). The country has so far tested 1,276,781 samples (as on 6th May) implying 3.86 percent of the samples tested positive(ICMR, 2020).
The Odisha state response to the disaster: On 13 March 2020, the Chief Minister of Odisha, Mr Naveen Patnaik declared the COVID-19 outbreak as a ‘disaster’ under the state’s Disaster Management Act 2005. The order was issued for the closure of all schools, Anganwadi Centers (these are early childhood development centers, which were started in 1975 under the Integrated Child Development Programme of India) and other educational institutions in Odisha until 31 March, which was further extended to 14 April 2020. This was in addition to the closure of public places, such as cinema halls, malls, religious places, swimming pools and gyms. These closures were put in place just a day after the WHO declared the COVID-19 as a global pandemic on 11 March and called upon the member countries to activate their emergency response systems. Odisha has also earmarked an amount of Rs 2,000,000,000 to deal with this outbreak. All the Scheduled Caste (SC) & Scheduled Tribe (ST) state-run hostels were closed from 25 March to 15 June and all students were given three months of pre-Matric scholarships as a cash advance. These schools were started to improve access to free education through residential educational facilities for the SC and ST students in the tribal hinterland. Food and nutritional supplemental are also provided free of cost in such schools. A micro-plan template for containing the local outbreak of COVID-19 was shared with the districts and blocks. Additionally, the frontline functionaries were engaged in surveillance, contact tracing, field communication, data collection tasks and daily line listing work even before the first case was registered in the state.
From 20 March, the Government of Odisha prohibited congregation of more than seven people at any place. Additionally, all official functions were suspended, public transport regulated to run on alternate days, and all stand-alone restaurants, bars, coffee shops, canteens and eateries of all kinds were closed until further order. To flatten the pandemic progression graph, 40 percent of Odisha was locked down for a week starting from 22 March, covering eight towns (i.e. Puri, Rourkela, Sambalpur, Jharsuguda, Balasore, Jajpur road, Jajpur town and Bhadrak) and five districts (i.e. Khurdha, Cuttack, Ganjam, Kendrapada and Angul) by exempting essential services, railways and air travel. All this happened before 25 March 2020 when the national lockdown was announced and the state figure for total positive cases was just 2 out of the 108 samples tested.
Odisha was also the first Indian state to extend the ongoing lockdown until 30 April and all educational institutions in the state will remain closed until 17 June 2020. It had also requested the Central Government not to start railway or airline services until 30 April 2020. Odisha police were also the first to warn people against spreading malicious information on social media that may create communal discord. In addition to this, Odisha implemented a complete shutdown in three districts (i.e. Khordha, Cuttack and Bhadrak) for 48 hours to contain community spread of COVID-19 after a spurt in cases reported from the 3rd to 5th of April 2020. Odisha issued a master circular as early as 29 March 2020, which highlighted the general measures for containment of the virus for everyone, from social distancing norms through to a media campaign. The Government again imposed a complete shutdown of 60 hours starting from 24 April 2020 in Bhadrak, Jajpur and Balasore districts after a spurt of COVID-19 positive cases. These positive cases were mainly returnees from West Bengal. Active contact tracing was done in this period. As a result, and a precautionary measure, Odisha has stopped road communication with West Bengal and has sealed all of its 57 road connections with West Bengal.
The Government of Odisha has asked the 82,248 people who have returned to Odisha either from abroad or from other states after 4 March 2020 to remain in self-quarantine. Odisha set up a COVID-19 helpline number (104) in the first week of March 2020 and has also dedicated an exclusive website (https://covid19.odisha.gov.in/) for disseminating information on the pandemic. The State Government has also made it mandatory for anyone returning from abroad to register themselves on this website within 24 hours of arrival and to stay in home quarantine for the next 14 days. An attractive incentive of Rs 15,000 was announced to encourage people to register themselves on this website. This system of online registration ensured a data-driven approach for mandatory quarantine, thus quickening the response time of the officials resulting in more efficient decision making.
The State Government approved Rs 5,400,000 from the Chief Ministers Relief Fund to five municipal corporations and 48 municipalities for feeding stray animals during the lockdown period, which has been much appreciated by PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals). The Odisha government announced that it will give Rs 3,000 per person to the 65,000 (approximate) registered street vendors of the state who have to stay at home and who have been robbed of their income due to the outbreak. The Odisha State Disaster Management Authority has been conducting state-level NGO coordination committee meetings to create public awareness, tracing of migrant workers, assisting in the management of quarantine facilities, counselling and providing food, medical and financial assistance to people in need.
To mitigate the hardship of sick, impoverished and destitute persons in the rural areas due to lock down, the Government issued an order to provide cooked food to all such people and a budget of Rs 60 per adult per day and Rs 45 per child (below 12 years) per day has been earmarked for provision of two cooked meals a day. These free kitchens have been set up in every Gram Panchayat (the lowest level of administration in a village) to provide cooked meals to disadvantaged people and Self Help Groups are playing a big role in its management and day-to-day operations.
The state government issues daily press releases and as of 3 May 2020, approximately 304,000 destitute and helpless people have been provided cooked meals in 4,969 Gram Panchayats and 109 Urban level bodies.
The Self Help Groups (SHGs) under Mission Shakti (an exclusive Department under the Odisha Government to work for approximately 7 million women associated with nearly 600,000 SHGs have come forward to stitch cotton masks to cater to the surge in demand. A total of 770 SHGs across 28 districts were involved in the manufacturing of masks with a total of 1,615,000 masks being produced, out of which 1,266,000 masks have already been sold in local markets, medical institutions/hospitals and to district health department. The SHGs members have distributed 55,919 masks free of cost. Over 700 SHGs under Mission Shakti have registered to run dry ration and vegetable shops and 13 mobile shops to break the supply side glitches due to the lockdown in various districts of the state. The SHGs are also involved in running the free kitchens and selling fresh vegetables. Most importantly, 607 SHGs members are engaged by Odisha Livelihood Mission as Customer Service Points/Banking Correspondent agents in different districts of Odisha.
Addressing the health needs: As an incentive to boost the morale of the people in public offices, on 25 March, the State Government announced that four months of salary will be paid in advance to doctors, paramedics and healthcare workers in Odisha for April. As a preventive measure, the state issued notifications on 23 March 2020 for the temporary engagement of the required number of staff nurses, pharmacists, laboratory technicians, radiographers, health workers and micro-biologists across the state.
Even when there was no positive case of COVID-19 in the state, Odisha had set up the first two exclusive COVID-19 hospitals in partnership with private players in Bhubaneswar with combined bed strength of 1,000. The state has set up 34 dedicated COVID-19 hospitals (Department of Health and Family Welfare, 2020c) with health care and isolation facilities to treat patients in their region and has a total bed strength of over 5,493, as well as 15 testing centers and 296 ICU beds. Many of them have been set up in collaboration with private players, corporations and philanthropical organisations.
Before this, the state had already made arrangements of available infrastructures, such as college hostels, cyclone shelter homes, Kalyan Mandaps, Nirman bhawans and community centers with adequate power back up and water supply for use as transit quarantine facility, if the necessity arises.
The state is prepared with 9,536 temporary medical centers with 330,772 bed capacity, functional in 6,798 Gram Panchayats of the State, which shall be used for the quarantine of people returning to their home state.
Ensuring food and nutrition security: The Department of Women & Child Development issued an order for printing and distribution of Information, Education and Communication material on COVID-19 and its prevention. The Department also shared the detailed guideline for delivery of Take-Home Ration and ration for Hot Cooked Meal at the doorsteps of 4,127,000 beneficiaries covered under the Supplementary Nutrition Programme. While doing so the Auxiliary Nurse & Midwifes, the Accredited Social Health Activists and the Anganwadi Workers must follow all standards of respiratory hygiene and protocols of social distancing and personal hygiene.
The circular from the Food Supplies & Consumer Welfare Department, which was issued on 16 March 2020, directed that rations under the public distribution system will be supplied to the elderly, high risk individuals and vulnerable people at the doorsteps and without making the people undergo biometric screening.
Apart from that, rice, wheat, and kerosene are being distributed to 32,600,000 National Food Security Act (NFSA) beneficiaries and 450,000 State Food Security Scheme beneficiaries for three months in advance (565,000 MT of rice and wheat for the month of April, May and June) from 1 April to 15 May to avoid a rush at Fair Price Shops. The circular mentioned that even at the dealer outlets, it is important that: there should be the availability of sanitiser; hand hygiene practice must be followed; and social distancing rules need to be adhered to. The department has also begun the distribution of seven-kg rice and one kg of dal free of cost to ration card holders for three months in addition to the quota under the National Food Security Act and the Indian Student Federation. In addition to this, Rs. 1000 has been distributed to 51,46,696 public distribution system Cardholders in the state.
The government decided to provide Mid Day Meal dry ration for 90 days at one go through Fair Price Shops/public distribution system outlets as all the schools have been closed. Each Primary school student has been provided 3 kilograms of rice per month and each Upper Primary child has been given 4.5 kilograms of rice per month. This is over and above the child’s entitlement under the Targeted Public Distribution System and the Indian Student Federation.
The State Government issued an order to extend the time for serving subsidized food at Aahar Centers to slow down the movement of the crowd, decongest them with social distancing and ensure hand washing facilities at each center.
Social security for the most vulnerable, elderly, disabled, poor widows and mentally challenged: Approximately 4,500,000 beneficiaries received their pension (Department of Health and Family Welfare, 2020d) for the month of April, May, June and July by the end of March 2020 in cash at the Gram Panchayats, without facing the hassle of visiting the bank branches; thereby, deviating from the norm of digital payments, which would have otherwise wreaked havoc on the excluded and vulnerable groups. This timely initiative of the Social Security and Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities Department has received much appreciation from the masses.
Addressing the need of migrant workers: The Odisha government has ensured food and shelter through 2,553 temporary camps for more than 77,000 identified migrant workers from other states who have been stranded in Odisha in the wake of the national lockdown. All their grievances received through the Shramik Shayata call center are being promptly being addressed. The Shramik Shayata call center was opened by the State Government after the nationwide lockdown was announced for guest workers who need help in the state.
In addition to it, thousands of Odisha migrant workers are stranded midway or in other states. Initially, the State Government launched two separate helpline numbers to assist them and also wrote to all other states requesting them to help the people of Odisha and told them that the state will bear their cost of stay or medical treatment until the lockdown period ends. Anticipating a sudden influx of home bound migrants after the end of second phase of lockdown, the State Government made a comprehensive strategy for compulsory online registration and a 14-days mandatory quarantine for all people before being allowed to go to their homes, if found otherwise fit. Over 550,000 people have registered themselves on the portal to facilitate their return. Their stay in the quarantine facility, food and treatment will be free of cost. The State Government announced an attractive incentive (Rs 15,000) upon successful completion of the quarantine stay. The Gram Panchayat Sarpanchs were accorded with the District Collector’s power within their jurisdiction to plan, execute and coordinate for the containment of COVID-19.
The task of managing the quarantine centers have been given to the Gram Panchayats/Urban Local Bodies. Budgetary allocation has been made for food, personal hygiene kit, bed sheets, sanitation, cleanliness and security. Keeping in mind that the migrant groups may have women (including pregnant and lactating), adolescent girls, infants, children, old and infirm, transgenders and physically and mentally challenged people, the quarantine/medical facilities have been prepared following the principles of privacy, safety and dignity (Dept. of Health and Family Welfare, 2020). It has drinking water, separate toilet and sanitation facilities. Also, arrangements have been made following the principles of social distancing and personal hygiene. Daily monitoring of the health conditions of all quarantine center residents are being conducted by Auxiliary Nurse & Midwifes, Accredited Social Health Activists and Anganwadi Workers or any health personnel. Any residents discovered to have fever cold or influenza-like symptoms or severe acute respiratory infections or shall be segregated immediately and then, shifted to a designated health facility.
Conclusion: To severely limit the spread of COVID-19, the Government of Odisha has taken gigantic steps and accorded utmost priority to save people’s lives, rather than keeping the economic activity bustling. In the Chief Minister Mr Naveen Patnaik’s words: ‘extraordinary circumstances call for an extraordinary response’. This reveals his good intentions. He has also appealed to all citizens to practice social distancing and refrain from spreading rumours and misinformation. All the decisions made so far by the State Government have been data-driven with adequate response time and compassionate in nature. The results have been encouraging and the sufferings of the people have been minimised in the state, much against the presumption that was highlighted at the time of the announcement of national lockdown. This has been made possible through people-centered planning, interdepartmental convergence, far sightedness in decision-making, the participation of private sector and civil societies, rigorous monitoring at all levels, effective utilisation of existing manpower and institutions and the cooperation from the people.
* Associate Professor and Head, Dept. of Humanities and Social Sciences, National Institute of Technology, Rourkela, Email: email@example.com
**Programme Manager, Centre of Excellence on Public Health Nutrition, National Institute of Technology, Rourkela, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
*** Assistant Professor, Social Anthropology, School of Business, VIT-AP University, Amaravati, India, Dr Sahoo is one of the Regional Coordinators of the Avoidable Deaths Network (AND) – India. Email: email@example.com
Department of Health and Family Welfare (2020a) Covid-19 Dashboard. Government of Odisha. https://health.odisha.gov.in/covid19-dashboard.html (Accessed 6 May 2020)
Department of Health and Family Welfare (2020b) Covid health care facilities. https://health.odisha.gov.in/pdf/List-COVID-facilities-State-Odisha.pdf (Accessed 6 May 2020)
Department of Health and Family Welfare (2020c) Master Circular on Covid Hospitals. https://health.odisha.gov.in/pdf/Master-Circular-on-COVID-Hospitals-03-may-2020.pdfm (Accessed 3 May 2020)
Department of Health and Family Welfare (2020d) Master circular on other important information. https://health.odisha.gov.in/pdf/Covid19_Master_Circular_Other_important_information-30-Mar-2020.pdf (Accessed : 3rd May 2020)
India Today (2020) Covid-19 Tracker (India). https://www.indiatoday.in/coronavirus-cases-tracker-dashboard/ (Accessed 6 May 2020)
Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) (2020) SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) Testing Status. https://main.icmr.nic.in/sites/default/files/whats_new/ICMR_testing_update_06May2020_9AM_IST.pdf (Accessed 6 May 2020)
Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (2020) Covid-19 India. Government of India https://www.mohfw.gov.in/ (Accessed 6 May 2020)