As COVID-19 positive cases shoot up in Odisha the government is clearly struggling to contain the spread of the virus. While the number of positive cases has crossed the 100 mark several times in the last few days death toll, too, has gone up.
By government’s own admission the fight against COVID-19 is going to be a long haul. However, the million dollar question is are we following the right kind of strategy? Chinks in the government’s armour are becoming increasingly visible with management of quarantine centres, which is central to any strategy to tackle the coronavirus menace, leaving much to be desired.
With the bulk of positive cases being reported from these centres the focus must be on their proper management with inmates following discipline and being subjected to required health check-ups, including COVID-19 tests, to rule out any chance of them infecting others upon their release. This does not seem to be happening at the moment.
Discipline has gone for a toss at many of these centres. While on May 4 a TikTok video showing quarantined migrant labourers dancing wildly and hugging one another at a centre in Bhadrak district had gone viral, a few weeks later the inmates of a centre in Keonjhar district reportedly organised a booze party with a local bootlegger supplying the stuff.
There have also been reports of protests by quarantined workers at some places over the quality of food that has left the authorities red-faced. To add to government’s woes there is a growing clamour from the inmates of these centres for COVID-19 tests, creating a new problem.
Available statistics suggest that Odisha has 34 COVID hospitals with a combined bed strength of 5493. The government has also readied 15,867 temporary medical centres in 6,798 panchayats where around seven lakh beds have been arranged for COVID-19 patients. Quarantine centres for Odias returning to the state from outside have been set up in almost each panchayat but till recently the state had only 16 COVID-19 testing facilities. If sources are to be believed, there is also a dearth of trained staff.
The pressure of managing the quarantine centres amidst increasing strain on its own resources made the government reduce the mandatory quarantine period from 21 days to 14 days. District collectors, though, appear to have some leeway in the matter which enables them to take decisions according to the situation prevailing in their areas.
But there is no denying complaints from quarantine centres about the demand of inmates for COVID-19 tests being ignored unless they show symptoms of the disease. Asymptomatic people are not being tested, leaving them and their families at a high risk. Government officials, including doctors heading medical teams in blocks and districts, remain tight-lipped on the issue which has turned sensitive with reports of protests by inmates at some places.
The crisis that we are facing is unprecedented. It has put both our patience and resources to test. But since this calamity is all about human misery it has to be dealt with in a humane manner. Our strategy to fight COVID-19 must take this factor into account.