As Odisha battles Covid, experts debate its unique model

Pandemic response under ‘Mo Sarkar’ has its pluses and minuses, as tally continues to rise

Debi Mohanty | September 9, 2020


#testing   #Odisha   #healthcare   #Novel Coronavirus   #Covid-19   #recovery   #Naveen Patnaik   #BJD  
(Photo: Debi Mohanty)
(Photo: Debi Mohanty)

When Odisha’s Covid-19 tally crossed the 10,000-mark on July 7, chief minister Naveen Patnaik directed officials to include pandemic management under the ‘Mo Sarkar’ (My Government) programme to get feedback from patients and frontline workers.

While reviewing the situation in the state, Patnaik asked observers and senior officers to interact with patients and frontline workers engaged in different Covid hospitals and temporary medical camps (TMCs). He said direct feedback from stakeholders will help the government to further improve Covid-19 care in Odisha.

The 'Mo Sarkar' initiative is an important transformative initiative of the 5-T programme which was introduced after Patnaik began his fifth consecutive innings as chief minister in 2019. The 5-T mantra is based on the philosophy that transparency, teamwork, technology and time lead to transformation.

However, coronavirus cases have continued to surge in the state alarmingly. Two months later, as on September 8, Odisha’s total Covid cases stood at 1,31,382 with 28,575 active cases. As many as 1,02,185 patients had recovered while 569 lost lives. The state has conducted 21,84,841 tests so far.

Meanwhile, Khordha district has replaced its southern neighbour Ganjam to emerge as the most affected hot-spot. The state capital, Bhubaneswar, falls in Khordha district. Cuttack district, bordering Khordha has witnessed a steep rise in cases too. Bhubaneswar and Cuttack, the two largest cities of Odisha, are referred to as twin cities.    

Though Covid has spread its tentacles across the state, with 38 percent of the state’s total caseload, Khordha (21,415), Ganjam (18,652) and Cuttack (10,365), lying along the Chennai-Kolkata National Highway 16, have been the worst hit so far.

Worried over the continuous spike in positive cases in the twin city, the Odisha government on September 7 warned people to bring in behavioural changes and ensure strict compliance to the Covid-19 guidelines or face strong action.

Odisha’s special relief commissioner PK Jena said that 10 senior IAS and IPS officers had made surprise visits to different places in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack on Friday and based on their feedback, videos were shot by drones next day.

“The videos showed that people are crowding market places, not maintaining social distance and also not wearing masks. With such behaviour, we are inviting the virus home and will never be able to win this fight against Covid-19. Such unnecessary trips outside the house should be avoided,” Jena said.
The state government is continuously working to meet the future infrastructure needs amid the rising Covid-19 cases. Odisha now has 50 Covid hospitals, 7,328 beds, 710 ICU beds, and 457 ventilator beds, he said. However, reports indicate that a crunch in ICU beds has already been experienced in Bhubaneswar.

Meanwhile, the Bhubaneswar municipal corporation has taken up a community awareness drive; it’s also been assigned to conduct door-to-door testing.  

Experts say the only way to stay safe from infection is to obey the Covid guidelines. “The peak [in caseload] is two-three weeks away. We are already in a tight spot as far as manpower and infrastructure is concerned. Therefore, every person must remain extremely careful, wear face mask and maintain social distancing,” advised a leading critical care specialist in Bhubaneswar. “Covid is going to be a challenge till December,” he added

Meanwhile, the opposition BJP and Congress have targeted the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government for the worsening coronavirus situation in the state.

“The government is only busy trying to show that its Covid management is a model in the world. They don’t have even the accurate figures of the returnee migrant workers,” BJP state general secretary Dr. Lekhasri Samantsinghar said.

On the other hand, Congress blamed both the union as well as state governments for “gross mismanagement” of the pandemic. “Covid-19 has exposed the miserable healthcare condition in the country. Instead of properly managing the pandemic, the central and Odisha governments are only making announcements,” senior Congress leader Panchanan Kanungo told Governance Now.

Recalling the weekend shutdown imposed in August, Kanungo said, “Having thrown open the market and all other activities for five days of the week, people were made to stay indoors for two days. What’s the logic behind such decisions?”  

There are many who praised the Odisha government’s initiatives but also thought it should have involved key stakeholders from different sections of society for a more effective management of the pandemic.

“The preparatory phase and approach to meet the Covid challenge was commendable. Be it setting up of dedicated hospitals, creation of a free-from-fear atmosphere for the healthcare professionals or ensuring hassle free treatment in which a patient doesn’t have to incur any cost, the state administration has done a laudable job,” maintained activist and former state information commissioner Jagadananda.

He, however, believed the state government should have gone in for a ‘heavy duty partnership’ with the civil society for social messaging and behaviour change communication. Arguing that there’s a growing stigmatization in the society due to Covid, Jagadananda viewed that, social, community or peer leaders are best suited to deal with such issues.

“Social messaging, which is extremely critical in such a time, is not the government’s forte. Therefore, both government and civil society should work in tandem. Considering the challenge, we need a ‘multi hands’ approach. At this point of time, Odisha’s Covid management is a sarkari movement, it rather should have been a people’s movement,” Jagadananda opined.

Echoing the same sentiments, Samantsinghar said, “We had suggested the government to involve opinion makers/leaders from different groups-socio-cultural, political, religious, civil society) in Covid management. They even sidelined their own (BJD’s) elected representatives.”

According to former bureaucrat Aurobindo Behera, who headed the Odisha state disaster management authority (OSDMA) – a first of its kind agency in the country - during its nascent days, managing Covid is the need of the hour. He, however, stressed on timely and correct medical advice to not only Covid patients but those suffering from other critical illness as well.

“People should have easy access to expert medical advice not only on Covid matters but also on other critical health issues that seem to have been pushed to the background,” asserted Behera.

The BJD, though, refuted the opposition’s charges. “The government is doing everything in accordance with the government of India’s guidelines,” senior BJD leader Amar Prasad Satpathy said.

Claiming that Odisha’s Covid management has been hailed everywhere, Satpathy said, “The government is accountable to the people of the state, and it’s doing what is best for them. People of Odisha are satisfied and the opposition is also aware of that.”

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