The district has been accounting for the highest number of Covid-19 cases as well as deaths in the state. However, the number of daily cases is on a decline.
During the interaction via video-conference, Patnaik emphasised that “Ganjam is at the forefront of the ongoing fight against corona” and applauded the sarpanches for their efforts.
Initially, the return of migrants from hotspot states and districts was considered as a reason for the high Covid numbers in Ganjam, but the caseload started shifting from rural areas to urban areas under Berhampur Municipal Corporation.
On April 30, the first four buses from Surat arrived in Ganjam carrying 220 migrant workers. All of them were tested, and 28 were positive. The first case in the district was reported on May 2 — patient number 158 of Odisha.
With 59 cases on May 7, Ganjam was already accounting for the maximum caseload in the state. On June 22, the number of cases crossed 1,000. In the next 10 days, it touched 2,000 and by the end of July it was more than 10,000. In the last 10 days, the district has recorded nearly 3,000 cases. With 13,088 cases as of Monday, and accounting for 28% of the cases in the Odisha, Ganjam was ahead of Khordha (6,663 cases), which includes state capital Bhubaneswar. The district has also reported the highest deaths — accounting for 137 of the 286 deaths in Odisha.
District Collector Vijay Kulange said, “We managed 4 lakh migrant workers who returned. We immediately moved them to quarantine centres. There were sporadic incidents of people jumping quarantine. New cases also arose from asymptomatic patients who had completed quarantine and tested positive later. But the spread has been contained with door-to-door surveillance and ramped-up testing. Recovery rate is on the rise while active cases have started to decline. A month ago, 60 samples of every 100 were testing positive, now it is 15.”
While testing has been ramped up, recoveries have also shot up, from approximately 500 in June to 2,000 in July and 9,611 by the second week of August.
The district has also faced other issues pertaining to health services and frontline workers getting infected. So far, 1,401 health and frontline workers have been infected and 21 have died.
An Anganwadi worker who works in Aska block, which has the highest number of villages in red zone, said, “There is a fear among frontline workers. Most of us work on the field unaware of who is infected.”
In terms of healthcare, the district has three Covid hospitals with 400 beds, located in Berhampur, and Covid care centres in nine blocks. There are 98 ICU beds and 1,763 oxygen cylinders.
According to an RTI filed recently, of the 567 posts sanctioned for doctors in the district, only 219 are occupied. The state government has mobilised doctors from less affected districts to Ganjam for better Covid management, drawing criticism from the opposition.
According to Dr Narayan Mishra, a member of the Covid task force in the district, “Movement of returning workers should have been restricted. Secondly, all those who returned should have been tested.”
He added, “New hospitals in Ganjam have been made Covid hospitals, but they had not treated any critical patients. Infrastructure was not ready. Energy was directed to the capital city. Cases here increased exponentially due to deplorable condition of healthcare.” Dr Narayan Mishra was earlier professor at MKCG medical college in Behrampur, which is a COVID hospital.
Senior endocrinologist from the district, Dr Sunil Kota said that while Ganjam initially struggled with healthcare, new hospitals have helped ease the pressure but lack of cooperation from the public remains a challenge.
“People should come forward sooner. There have been many cases when people have delayed reporting symptoms, leaving less time for doctors to attend to them. Since it is a rural belt, people also fear stigmatisation and avoid getting tested,” he said.
Santosh Sahu, sarpanch of Sankuda village, was discharged a week ago after being treated for Covid-19 at two hospitals in the district. He said, “The Covid hospital is 30 km from here. There is no critical care facility near the village. Ambulance services also need to improve.”
Local residents were also wary. “A neighbour showed symptoms, he was taken to hospital and released a week later, stating he was cured. But we are unsure. Villagers are also reluctant to get tested,” said Anand Reddy (35) from Badabaragam village of Purusottampur, where a few lanes have been contained after two persons tested positive.