Opposition Sceptical, Government Confident

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Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik has been leading the COVID-19 war from the front. Unfazed by criticism, he has been carrying out his strategy to ensure that people suffer the least and the pandemic is brought under control as soon as possible.

Opposition parties have questioned the strategy being followed by Naveen Patnaik government to contain the spread of COVID-19 pandemic in the state. It has also been critical of the measures being taken to take care of the livelihood of lakhs of people who are sitting idle at home having lost their jobs.                                                                Naveen Patnaik government’s response to such criticism, however, has been utterly stoic with ruling party leaders asserting that the government believes in doing its work instead of wasting time in political bickering.

Ruling party leaders point out that Unlock 3.0 guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs have been greeted with  a sense of relief to the people who were feeling suffocated by the plethora of restrictions imposed on them following the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. The latest directives from MHA, according to them, are a mixture of caution and the growing optimism about possible normalization of life with focus on the economy.

Thus night curfew has been scrapped and even yoga institutes and gymnasiums have been allowed to operate from August 5. While Independence Day functions have been allowed with strict adherence of social distancing norms international air travel has been permitted in a limited manner under the Vande Bharat mission. Though several restrictions are still in place and lockdown in containment zones has been extended till August 31 with justification the relaxations coming at a time when the overall corona positive case tally in the country has crossed the 15 lakh mark reflect the Centre’s confidence about keeping the situation firmly under control.                                                                                      The confidence is born out of the fact that India has also registered an excellent recovery rate and the overall COVID-19 graph is beginning to show a downward trend. Our own state, Odisha, has also fared quite well on this front with more and more people staging successful recoveries from the virus. Thanks to the sustained efforts of the government at containment we are today much better placed in the fight against COVID-19 compared to many other states of the country.                                                                                     The chief minister has marshaled his resources nicely and made the best possible use of his officers who have been executing his plans on this front.                                               But realization has dawned upon policy makers that lockdowns and shut-downs can at best be temporary measures in dealing with pandemic. They cannot and should not be stretched for too long as they have the potential to choke normal life and crush the economy which can be dangerously counter-productive.                                                                           India went under a complete nationwide lockdown from 25 March in order to curb the spread of the virus but while the measure achieved but limited success it dealt a paralyzing blow to the economy which is yet to recover from its impact. The realization made the Centre issue a number of guidelines in its Unlock India mission to provide relaxations in a graded manner to kickstart the economy.                                                                  Even a state like Maharashtra, which has been worst hit by the pandemic, has sought to infuse life into the economy and save livelihoods by allowing malls and markets to operate from 9 am to 7 pm from August 5 with some restrictions. The directive will be effective in areas including Greater Mumbai, Pune, Solapur, Aurangabad, Malegaon, Nashik, Dhule, Jalgaon, Akola, Amravati and Nagpur.                                                                              This is part of Maharashtra government’s  ‘Mission Begin Again’ to put life back on the rails. Delhi, the other corona hot-spot of the country, has been equally liberal as far as normal economic and livelihood earning activities of the people are concerned. Odisha, which announced a lockdown in four districts including Khurda in the middle of the current month and has since clamped such restrictions on more areas, needs to follow a similar strategy. Hence, the argument is that “Begin Again” should also the motto of government of Odisha as the state, sooner or later, must feturn to normal even as it continues the fight against the virus.                                                                                                                     On the other hand there is some heartening news on the COVID-19 front. Backed whole-heartedly by the state government plasma therapy is beginning to yield results. One of the first corona positive recipients of the vital blood fluid has been discharged from the hospital following successful treatment. At least 13 more patients receiving this treatment are reported to be doing well. Odisha is not the only state to experiment with this therapy but the determination with which the state government is pursuing this option deserves praise. There is a conscious effort to encourage plasma donations and it is incumbent upon all of us to support the government in this noble and life-saving endeavor.                             The fact is that the government led by chief minister, Naveen Patnaik is pulling out all stops to check the spread of the insidious virus that is threatening the entire humanity. Recently the chief minister spoke to the CEO of Serum Institute of India (SII) urging him to keep Odisha as a priority state for COVID-19 vaccination once necessary clearances were obtained. The Institute has collaborated with Oxford University to develop a vaccine against the virus and for its human trials. Keen to be among the first beneficiaries of the vaccine Odisha government will keep in touch with the Institute.                                                    It is this proactive approach which has kept Odisha ahead of many other Indian states as far as COVID-19 management is concerned. A firm believer in the maxim ‘early bird catches the worm’, chief minister, Naveen Patnaik set about the task of strengthening the state’s health infrastructure almost as soon as the first cases of corona infection were reported in the country. Much before his counterparts in other states reacted he had set up exclusive COVID-19 hospitals in Odisha. Soon others followed.   In the months that followed the state witnessed increased testing, excellent resource allocation and an attempt at making the war against the corona virus  a collective and collaborative effort with private sector being made a partner in health care capacity building. The government also took care of the livelihood needs of people, especially the poorer sections including migrant labourers who had returned to the state from various parts of the country.                          In short, Odisha was prepared much better than others to deal with the challenge thrown by the pandemic. The fact is disaster preparedness has been state’s forte ever since it set up specialized institutions like Odisha State Disaster Management Authority to help it effectively tackle natural calamities. The government led by chief minister, Naveen Patnaik has been consciously investing in such institutions and capacity building measures ever since it came to power in 2000 in the wake of a super-cyclone that laid waste to almost the entire coastal region of the state, leaving the economy crippled and almost 10,000 people dead.                                                                                                                          The super-cyclone of 1999 that swept Congress out of power in Odisha in the elections that followed had many lessons for the new government that was installed under the leadership of chief minister, Naveen Patnaik. Those lessons were learnt well. Patnaik and the people of the state are now reaping the benefits of that experience as Odisha battles COVID-19 fully confident about its ultimate victory over the enemy.  The objections of the opposition, thus, don’t matter much.

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