As Covid-19 cases spike in Odisha’s Ganjam, experts say community transmission has started, govt maintains no such signs

Weeks after the influx of migrant workers stopped, Odisha’s Covid-19 epicentre Ganjam district continues to be a hotspot, accounting for 30 per cent of the total cases. Ganjam has reported 64 per cent of the total 4,147 cases in the month of July, forcing the local administration to resort to unprecedented shutdowns and sealing of its border.

Yet, the district continues to post high Covid-19 numbers for the last 15 days in a row. The government’s own statistics now reveal that community transmission may have begun in Ganjam due to the incoming migrant workers. Of the 2,674 cases reported in the district in the last 12 days, at least 98 per cent of the cases were local infection caused by incoming migrant workers.

Listed under the headline of “active contact positive cases” in the government’s Covid-19 records, the statistics show the actual number of people who were infected by the 2.2 lakh migrant workers who stayed in over 3,000 quarantine centres of the district. While in the month of May and early June, most of the positive cases were being reported from quarantine centres, in late June and July, majority of the positive cases were reported from outside the quarantine centres.

“Had it not been community transmission in Ganjam, the numbers would not have been so high. It shows that the so-called quarantine model of the government has failed. The numbers would continue to rise for quite some time,” said a senior government doctor working in MKCG medical college and hospital in Ganjam district.

Renowned epidemiologist Jayprakash Muliyil, former principal of Christian Medical College, Vellore too said that community transmission has happened in Ganjam and the rest of Odisha too. “It has happened in almost all the states though the ICMR may not admit it. The quarantine centre model may delay the onset of transmission, but it can’t contain the virus. If any state government thought of collecting a gold medal by containing the virus, it is ridiculous,” said Mulyil.

Mulyil also came down heavily on the state government’s frequent lockdowns and decision by district administrations to seal the border to contain the pandemic. “The virus would get transmitted. The lockdown would have no effect on it,” he said, referring to the weekend shutdown in 23 of the 30 districts of Odisha this month.

Many in Ganjam said community transmission was inevitable due to the way migrant workers jumped quarantine periods and mingled with their family and neighbourhood. During the first few days, more than 150 people jumped quarantine in Beguniapada block while in other centres, people milled around handing mobile phone chargers, eatables, tobacco and other items to the inmates violating social distance norms. In a few centres there were reports of migrant workers sneaking into their homes at night and coming back to the quarantine centre in the morning.

Ganjam district collector Vijay Kulange, however, said that community transmission may not have happened. “Had we not built the quarantine centres, by now Ganjam would have recorded five lakh cases. As of now, 81 per cent of rural Ganjam is free from coronavirus and the cases that we are seeing are mostly in urban Ganjam. It’s true that some of the migrant workers violated the quarantine conditions and mingled with their family and that’s why we are seeing higher numbers. But with shutdowns we would be able to reach a plateau soon and the number will decline thereafter,” he said.

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