Experts fear COVID-19 spread in Odisha’s districts affected by Cyclone Yaas 

Many of those evacuated and housed at cyclone centres have been observed not adhering to COVID-19 protocol

By Hrusikesh Mohanty
Published: Friday 28 May 2021
A school-turned-shelter in a village in Sadar block, Balasore. Photo: Hrusikesh Mohanty

Health experts fear the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Odisha’s districts affected by Cyclone Yaas. This is primarily because evacuees are reportedly not following COVID-appropriate behavior.

One example of this is a multi-purpose cyclone shelter center in Parikhi under the Sadara block of Balasore. The district was ground zero of the latest disaster, with the cyclone making landfall there May 26, 2021.

Some 700 people, mostly fisher folk from the neighbouring villages of Budhidaya, Naudachak and Baulabaeni were evacuated to the centre by the district administration before Yaas hit.

Very few have been seen following COVID-19 protocols despite having been told to maintain social distancing, wear double masks and frequently wash hands by the authorities.

It was very difficult to ensure COVID-19 protocols among the evacuees at the time Yaas hit, Rabi Patra, a volunteer who helped the district administration evacuate people in Bhadrak district, said. 

Chakravarti Singh Rathore, the collector of Jajpur, said:

We have made adequate shelters in school buildings, anganwadi centres and cyclone centres to house the evacuees while maintaining social distance.

As many as 42,465 people have been evacuated and housed in 803 centres in Jajpur district.

Radha Madhab Tripathy, a former professor of community medicine, said:

The government was trying to minimise human casualties by evacuating such a large number of people before Yaas hit. But we fear their congregation in the shelters might spread COVID-19.

Subash Sahu, a private doctor, said any congregation will definitely pose a risk at the time of a pandemic like COVID-19. The government’s decision to mass screen evacuees after their return might minimise infection, he said.

“During evacuation, we had taken all precautionary measures to keep away infection and masks had been distributed. We cannot rule out lapses in some places due to an emergency situation like a cyclone,” PK Jena, special relief commissioner.

He said Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had instructed officials to monitor all evacuees.

The state health and family welfare department had told the collectors of the cyclone-affected districts: “As the families in the shelters are now returning to their homes and the restoration works will be completed very soon, it is important the persons concerned should be closely monitored for COVID-19 symptoms for at least a few weeks.”

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