On April 28, the Odisha government made quite a spectacle of its Covid-19 preparations on how no stone was left unturned to get the state armoured to fight the pandemic.
How Odisha was the first state to make early moves, tapping both national and international markets for personal protective equipment (PPE) procurement.
The state government claimed to have ordered more than 15 lakh PPEs and crores of masks and gloves since March. It even said it had ensured that every health worker, along with each ASHA, anganwadi and self-help group member—those on the front lines—wear PPEs while dealing with patients and suspects.
The grandstanding, however, seems to have not aged well as along with an expected surge in case load induced by reverse migration, the rate of infection among the front-line workers too has increased.
More and more service providers, including ASHA, anganwadi and sanitary workers along with panchayat representatives, have been found Covid-19 positive in the course of managing quarantine centres in the state. Even some sarpanchs, who are in charge of quarantine centres, have got infected.
The main reason is the personnel who are directly handling people in quarantine are neither provided with PPEs nor trained properly on safe conduct. There is even no SOP for working in such a high-risk environment.
What use are the lakhs of PPEs stocked up with the government if front-line workers move around unprotected and exposed to serious risk of infection? The Central guidelines may not have stipulated the full set of PPEs for those attached to quarantine facilities, but it is not binding.
Considering the high Covid-positive rate among inmates, compounded by their asymptomatic status, the state government is free to tweak the rules in the interests of its own corona warriors.
The government claims to have sent PPEs down to the block level but in the absence of clear-cut directions, the warriors are deprived of protection and forced to work in risky conditions.
The fact that the government does not even disseminate official information on infection contracted by these front-line workers is no good either as it goes against transparency, which is a major pillar of its governance.