The World Health Organization praised India for its challenging and timely efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus. Most of the credit goes to the states that are aggressively fighting the battle with the virus. Here are five Indian states that are proactively coming up with innovative solutions to contain the deadly virus.
While thousands of migrant labourers in Tamil Nadu remained clueless about returning to their native villages in Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Rajasthan amid confusing signals from the government, industries in the state were also anxious about the possibility of huge labour scarcity — a concern reflected in the exit strategies of the state government.
According to a survey by Tamil Nadu’s labour department, there were about 10 lakh inter-state migrant workers, and a majority of them wanted to leave for their homes if trains were arranged for them. The state government declared strategies for industrial clusters in the state, setting different work strengths — ranging from 20% to 50% — for industries in rural and urban areas to start operations.
What has helped Tamil Nadu avoid a massive exodus of migrants so far during the lockdown is a fairly good environment sustained by the government, civil society and employers even in the absence of jobs and non-payment of wages.
The state government’s strategy had been clear: silence about trains, instructions to local bodies and police teams to provide provisions, engaging civil society and NGOs in some areas to keep workers entertained with televisions or ensuring their phone recharge, quick intervention in any protest or gathering of migrants, etc.
In a televised address, CM Edappadi K Palaniswami said that trains would be arranged next week for migrant workers. However, the number of those who would want a ride was in the thousands, and government sources said that they would do their best to keep all of them comfortable in Tamil Nadu.
S Irudaya Rajan, an expert in migration studies at the Centre for Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram, said that COVID-19 has only made migrants more visible. “Now the governments have realised… that it is important to keep them in good humour and take them in confidence… everyone may not return after this outbreak, which would trigger a labour scarcity,” he said.
After successfully defeating the Nipah virus in 2018, Kerala utilised the experience to contain the spread of COVID-19 after a rather bumpy start. It was the first Indian state to register COVID-19 patients and topped the list at one stage. However, it has now managed to flatten the curve successfully.
What worked for Kerala was its extensive testing of symptomatic cases, followed by a thorough contact-tracing process and publishing of the route map of an infected person, so that everyone with the potential of being infected could be put in self-isolation.
Krishna Teja, an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer working with the Kerala COVID-19 response team, said:
“The reason why we have successfully been able to flatten the curve is because of excellent inter-department coordination at all levels (state, district and village panchayats). Moreover, our chief minister addresses the citizens every evening for an hour which establishes people’s faith in the system. Also, we are 100% checking the quarantine period by deploying officers to go to every household.”
The state had further managed to control the movement of migrant workers by building thousands of shelters following the sudden nationwide shutdown and distributing millions of cooked meals. The government also leveraged technology and released essential information on a real-time basis and launched a mobile app, GoK Direct, to check the spread of fake information. The state also started a “walk-in facility” for people to get tests safely.
Furthermore, an initiative called the CoronaSafe Network was created, with two major components: the Corona Literacy Mission and the Corona Care Centre to create awareness on COVID-19 and for converting educational institutions into hospitals to offset shortages.
This eastern state of India suffers nearly 25% of India’s natural disasters, which means that crisis precautions were already in place. These included cyclone shelters; now being used to house migrant workers from other states during the coronavirus outbreak.
Proactive preparedness is Odisha’s hallmark, with it becoming the first Indian state to impose a full lockdown (before India imposed it as a whole), and the first to extend it. The state classified COVID-19 as a natural disaster, like the super-cyclone of 1999. It was the first to announce exclusive COVID-19 hospitals and delivered them within a week in two districts; now every district has one. The state is further giving free medical treatment to all COVID-19 patients.
Regarding the challenges, Chief Secretary of Government of Odisha, Asit Tripathy, said:
“We were lucky to have the experience of countries like Italy before us. We saw the unintended catastrophe that happened in countries where they treated COVID patients in regular hospitals along with other patients. Therefore, our government moved very early to establish exclusive Odisha COVID hospitals across the state. We made a plan by inviting and involving private hospital operators and also corporates.”
The state’s containment programme was rooted in the strategic use of IT. It identified the highest-risk category people coming from abroad in order to put them in home quarantine to stop the spread. Leading the country, Odisha devised an incentive program by offering ₹15,000 to all foreign returnees to declare themselves on a government portal developed within 11 hours. According to the state’s IT Secretary, Manoj Mishra, over 5,000 international returnees and about 35,000 domestic returnees from COVID-19-affected states registered and were asked to home quarantine.
On 22 March, the government put the five most reported districts on lockdown first. This helped the state have control over the quarantine mechanism, and initially, according to the state’s Health and Welfare Department, Odisha recorded 60 cases. Odisha, too, created thousands of temporary shelters for migrant workers and provided cooked meals and counselling to all those in need. According to Subroto Bagchi, regional government spokesperson, 1,882 temporary camps had been set up to provide food and shelter to 56,926 guest workers from different states stranded due to the lockdown.
Meanwhile, the state’s Mission Shakti Self Help Groups (SHGs) were making masks in bulk to avoid any shortage (wearing them outside is now mandatory). According to Sujata Karthikeyan, Director of Mission Shakti, around 605 SHGs made cotton masks, helping protect the community and medics. More than 7,000 SHGs are working day and night to produce protection gear for those on the frontlines and those running village panchayat-level kitchen centres to cook meals for those in need. The government further paid out advance social pension of four months to around 2.8 million beneficiaries.
Maharashtra currently leads the table of COVID-19 positive cases. The state had come up with a cluster containment plan to deal with the contagion and used data analytics, drones and traditional patrolling methods to survey crowded places. In every district, two to three drones were used to monitor movement on the streets.
A drone can cover an area of 1 kilometre once deployed. It gives an aerial view of, for example, Mumbai’s Marine Drive shows the arterial roads, then moves into the lanes and bylanes, making movement tracking simpler. If the police spot anybody roaming in these areas, a team is immediately dispatched to take action. The state had further started mass patrolling, reinforcing the message to stay inside.
The Bhilwara district of Rajasthan, once the worst affected by COVID-19 with 27 cases and two deaths, is now being hailed as a model for the rest of the country. It had gone into a full lockdown backed with a curfew, and the entire population went into health screening.
During the lockdown, there was no relaxation of any type, and essential items were delivered to city residents at their doorstep; something made easier by an affluent population in the city that can afford to pay for it. As a result, the textile hub has reported only a few cases of COVID-19 since 30 March.
The Bhilwara model is being replicated in other districts of Rajasthan and has received praise from the entire country. The man in charge, District Magistrate of Bhilwara Rajendra Bhatt, said in an interview to The Print:
“The success was not rocket science. We got full cooperation from the state government. When we (at the district level) said that we need to seal the border, the government did it immediately – no questions asked. Before announcing the complete curfew, we sent our people to dairies, surveyed how much milk each household is consuming so that when we imposed the curfew, all we had to do is deliver an average amount to each house… Again, it was no rocket science.”
The state had further banned spitting in public.
India’s most populated state with over 200 million people, Uttar Pradesh has managed well to keep the cases low. The state had further sealed all the 160 hotspots completely. Uttar Pradesh had no laboratory to test the Sars-CoV-2 pathogen when the first positive case was reported on 3 March; it now has 10.
The state government has established a Covid Care Fund and is getting support from public representatives and the general public. The money is being used to expand testing and treatment facilities. The government is already working to boost the manufacturing units of PPE, N95 masks, triple-layer masks, thermal analysers, ventilators and other equipment.
The state administration is making sure to provide food to all with the help of two platforms — Annapurna and Supply Mitra. The former gives the location of free cooked items and food packets, while the latter is used to facilitate home delivery of groceries and other daily essential items, by providing the operating details of the traders and delivery boys involved. The state government provided one-month free food grains to poor people, along with ₹1,000 as compensation to daily wage workers who were affected due to the outbreak of the deadly virus.
More than 37,000 labourers registered with the labour department and have been compensated through a DBT (Direct Benefit Transfer) scheme. People with old-age or disability pensions were given two months’ advance.