To go for further unlock or not? That is the dilemma before the Odisha government. Starting June 17, it eased curbs and brought in a partial unlock as the test positivity rate (TPR) fell below 5% across 17 districts of the state. Most of these districts have been reporting a drop in the daily caseload, but the same cannot be said for the rest. Some of the more populous coastal districts are still in the red zone, where lockdown restrictions exist till July 1. The state government hoped the TPR would drop below 5% so that the unlock can be planned next month, but the analytics are not encouraging to say the least. The Ministry of Health’s districtwise positivity rate analysis for June 21-27 shows that Khurda, Bhadrak, Balasore, Nuapada and Dhenkanal districts continue to report a positivity in the range of 10 to 17%. Another 11 districts, a majority of which are in coastal pockets, report their TPR in the 5-10% range. In fact, Odisha is among the 10 states in the country where the seven-day average TPR is above 5%. That’s something worrying for the Naveen Patnaik government, which is caught between the ‘need to unlock’ and ‘cannot risk it so soon’ quandary. Bhubaneswar and Cuttack, home to key government establishments and business centres, just cannot seem to bring the situation under control despite the restrictions in place.
With core economic activities impacted, it is not a pleasant situation to be in. Two weeks ago, the state government announced a Rs 29 crore fi nancial assistance package for street vendors across 114 urban local bodies. But that’s not going to be enough because businesses have been hard-hit across the board. For those in the middle and lower rung, the problems are existential in nature. Think of the thousands of hotels, restaurants and other outlets that cannot open but owners have to foot electricity and water bills on a monthly basis. Then there are grave issues of employment too.
The Odisha government has to revisit its strategies now. It needs to provide succour but at the same time ensure a hasty unlock does not compound the problems of Covid transmission since the third wave is not very far. Health and livelihood must fi nd a fi ne balance and not remain exclusive of each other in CM Naveen Patnaik’s plans.