Odisha is used to dealing with natural disasters, and so far it doesn’t look like COVID-19 is going to be any different. Cyclone Fani devastated the state less than a year ago but Odisha is already at the threshold of another problem. In response, it has become the first state in India to incentivise Indians returning from travel abroad to declare their itinerary and illnesses if any with a cash award, of Rs 15,000.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik even tweeted that he had registered his sister Gita Mehta on the portal; she recently returned from the US.
The state government has also declared a state of emergency over the spread of the coronavirus and locked the state down until March 31. Those spreading misinformation over social media are also being punished akin to a crime. The government is also using technology to drive the IEC campaign and has made the circulation of misinformation on COVID-19 a criminal offence.
Thus far, only one person has tested positive for COVID-19 in Odisha. A senior government official told The Wire Science, “The government is leaving no stones unturned in order to sensitise, sanitise and quarantine people coming from outside the state. We have faced several disasters but this is a different kind of disaster. The focus is to educate every individual about the seriousness of COVID-19 and contain the spread of the disease and we are taking adequate steps to ensure that.”
Officials in at least seven districts, including Puri and Ganjam, have imposed Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
The state’s hospitality industry is likely the worst affected as it has only just been recovering from the effects of Cyclone Fani, including suffering a loss of Rs 500 crore.
J.K. Mohanty, president of the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Odisha, said, “The hospitality industry of Odisha had barely got back on its feet when once again a tragedy has struck. At this time, all hotels are spending extra money and manpower to maintain hygiene levels.” He added that the associated has requested the government to waive fees related to the renewal of licenses and permits renewal for the hospitality and travel industry across the state.
“We all know that this is a global situation and no one knows when [things] will become normal. This is the right time for the state government and the business community to act together” and “plan for a better business environment in future”.
“Different businesses are affected differently; obviously events have come to a complete standstill, rightfully so,” Satyabrat Sanu Ratho, who runs a business in Bhubaneswar, said. “We have a flexible policy for people to work from home, and are taking all measures at the work place to keep our staff safe.”
There is no clear indication about whether the lockdown will end on April 15 or be extended further. The Odisha government has said it will maintain a good stock of groceries and medicines but most people in the state, unsure of what to expect next, have been on hoarding sprees.