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This is how Odisha quarantined me after I returned from Harvard. Other states should learn

Odisha’s data-driven approach for quarantine sharply contrasts with that of the Modi govt, which announced a nation-wide lockdown with four hours of notice.

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I recently completed 14 days of quarantine at my residence in Cuttack, Odisha, after I returned from my Fulbright post-doctoral research fellowshsip at Harvard Law School. Enforcing home-quarantine of foreign returnees has been a challenge for state governments across the country. There have been many examples of people violating their quarantine, putting others at risk.

While Odisha has not been without incidents of administrative lapses and wilful negligence, the state government has done a far better job of monitoring the quarantine situation than most of its counterparts. Even though the bureaucratic inefficiencies are still glaringly visible, the state machinery has done a rather commendable job so far.

Also read: Tablighi attendees ‘creating trouble’ at hospitals, Delhi govt asks for more police vigil

A digital database helping decision-making

One of the astute measures the Naveen Patnaik government took was to start an online portal and a helpline number where foreign returnees are required to register themselves. While lack of registration will trigger criminal penalties, the government has also incentivised the process by offering Rs 15,000 to all individuals who register themselves and complete the 14-day quarantine.

The online form requires a foreign returnee to provide details of recent travel history and also local residential details along with contact information. There were, however, two shortcomings in the implementation that I noticed from my experience.

While this measure has been sufficiently publicised within Odisha, there was no proper notification regarding this at the Bhubaneswar International Airport. Thus a person returning will be reliant on his/her friend or relatives for informing him/her about this new rule. Also, there was no announcement in the New Delhi-Bhubaneswar flight in this regard.

It took almost 18 hours for an acknowledgement number to be generated and for my details to be registered in the system. Such a lag delays the response mechanism at least by a day which can surely be avoided. Because of this delay, I was not contacted by any local official during the first 24 hours of my arrival.

The central government and all state governments need to launch similar platforms. An online portal saves considerable resources and allows quicker tracking apparatus. In my flight from New York to New Delhi, all passengers were asked to fill up a form detailing our recent travel history and if we had any of the symptoms associated with Covid-19. I am assuming that somewhere somebody is digitising all this data. Digitisation of physical records is a phenomenal waste of human resources at a time when much of this process can be managed online.

The Narendra Modi government can surely publicise the requirement of all foreign returnees to fill up an online form and then link  it with each person’s passport number so that it can be verified during immigration, if the person has submitted his/her details.

An online database also quickens the response time for government officials. Most critically, it allows for quicker and more efficient decision-making. Based on the data gathered from its online portal, the Odisha government announced a lockdown in five districts and eight towns for one week from 22 March. The state was one of the first in India to adopt lockdown to combat the crisis. Its identification of the districts and towns to be put under lockdown was based on the distribution of and concentration of foreign returnees.

This data-driven approach of the Odisha government contrasts sharply with that of the central government, which announced a nation-wide lockdown with four hours of notice without necessarily thinking through it. The Odisha government showed a willingness to not go for uniformity as a convenient tool and was driven by a rational assessment of the situation because it had data on which it could base its decisions.

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Persistent monitoring

Once my details were in the system, the local authorities were quick to react and have been persistent in follow ups. I was contacted by the Cuttack Municipal Corporation and was visited by a doctor and a nurse within 48 hours of my arrival. They enquired if I had any symptom and informed me that there will be regular follow ups on my condition during the quarantine period.

I was contacted every day by multiple departments and government officials, enquiring about my health. I got calls from the Covid-19 centre set up by the Odisha government under its health department. I was contacted every day by a doctor from the office of the chief district medical officer (CDMO). Additionally, a health worker from my local ward was also in touch with me throughout the quarantine period. In the initial days of my quarantine, the Inspector in Charge of the local police station contacted me, informing that he had my details. He also visited my residence to confirm my presence and to acquaint himself with me.

In contrast, a colleague of mine who is in home quarantine in Delhi informed me that she has not been contacted by the Delhi government even once. In fact, the Delhi government does not have any details of her residence or her contact number. While the Arvind Kejriwal government is likely to couch it in a positive manner, of trusting the citizens to be responsible, it is an abdication of duties amid a critical period.

The value of consistent monitoring by the government is significant. While those who are responsible are likely to abide by the quarantine regardless of the government’s initiatives, the psychological pressure of being monitored is crucial for those who are prone to ignore the quarantine. Unscheduled visits and phone calls during different hours of the day are effective in increasing the risk perception of being caught for violating the quarantine. This monitoring has also helped the Odisha government in taking action against people violating the quarantine.

Also read: Asians will become the new Muslims — how coronavirus will change our world like 9/11

Visible inefficiencies

While the Odisha government has been proactive in tackling this crisis, the burden of bureaucratic inefficiencies continues to be visible. The officials from the Covid-19 center who were in touch with me every day wasted an inordinate amount of time in confirming the exact same details every single time: name, father’s name, district, address, passport number etc.

They were probably asking for these details to confirm that the person who has registered and the one on the phone is the same, but it was an ineffective and superficial verification. If I made somebody else to answer on my behalf, it would have gone undetected as instead of a specific list being assigned to each official, different persons called each day.

But calls from the office of the CDMO were from the same doctor each day. This ensured that our conversation was not wasted on confirming generic details as the doctor got acquainted with my voice after 5-6 days.

The poster notifying my quarantine was put up outside my residence after 12 days. Such delay defeats the purpose of the poster which is to facilitate awareness and alertness in the neighbourhood.

There was also inconsistency of information in terms of the day from which the duration of the quarantine was to be calculated. One official told me that the duration of quarantine is to include the day of arrival. I was uncomfortable with this as I had arrived around 10 pm in the night and counting the day of arrival in my case would turn my period of quarantine into 13 days instead of 14.

Another official from a different department insisted that the duration was to be calculated from the time of arrival. A simple solution would be to exclude the date of arrival altogether from the calculation. While it will mean that some individuals might be quarantined for 15 days instead of 14, it will also eliminate the risk of some people stepping out after 13 days.

Also read: Rename WHO as Chinese Health Organization: Japan slams UN body for ‘giving into China’s spin’

Keeping ahead of the curve

As on 1 April, the total number of confirmed cases in Odisha has not touched double-digits. Most of the measures that I experienced, started when the number of confirmed cases was only two. The Odisha government has been much more active, compared to many other state governments in formulating a preemptive response to the Covid-19 crisis.

It is evident not just in the way the state government is monitoring home quarantine. Odisha is also setting up country’s first dedicated Covid-19 hospitals to deal with the inevitable outbreak. Flattening the proverbial curve has been challenging for most countries around the world. Trying to keep ahead of it may save more lives and in systematically monitoring home quarantine, Odisha is leading by example.

Rangin Tripathy is a faculty at National Law University Odisha and has recently completed his Fulbright Post-Doctoral Fellowship from Harvard Law School. Views are personal.

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  1. Good article, few critical observations as well. Like Odisha other Governments including the Central Government have been doing a good job with lot to improve. Anyway, if is 14 days, 15 days or 24 days needs to be verified. I am surprised to know how the Modi Govt failed to stop the religious congregation in the Capital? Kindly don’t be so harsh in your comments so that hardly anybody would go through, be gentle yar.

  2. Odisha has doing the fanstatic job than other states, Govt appoints Mr.subroto bagchi, Ex CEO of mindtree as chief spokesperson of Covid19, he explained beautifully about the govt programs and actions, Odisha is the best for disaster management, you knew in super cyclone like fani, hudhud they manage well, In Covid19, the preparedness is excellent, other states should follow the way from Odisha

  3. Are you really a Fulbright scholar? If so, I lost complete respect for it after reading your self serving penmanship.

    I returned on 19th March early hours to Bengaluru from SanFrancisco and took a train to Hyderabad same day. Every international airport in India had, by then collecting travel details of every foreign returnee that included Address, phone number, email id, flight number, seat number and travel history for prior 28 days.
    Immigration control processed this input. A copy was given to the passenger.
    I wonder how come Bhubaneswar missed on this.
    I know for a fact that Delhi has been collecting this input more than 10 days before itself.
    A friend of mine returned to Delhi a werk before from Paris. A team of people visited him at his house within 4 days of his arrival. Same experience for me too. Bengaluru shared my travel details to Telangana government which in turn sent a team of health workers to my home who enquired of my well being, pasted a large red sticker at my door step cautioning the neighborhood. I finished my self quarantine on 2nd April during which time every day the health workers visited my home, signed on the sticker. I also received phone calls from their supervisors.

    How easily did you generalise and made sweeping remarks on Delhi and other states! Is this what Harvard taught you???

    • Mr. R Kidambi,

      I couldn’t agree on your outburst on a foriegn returned passenger. You might be upset as because your couldn’t state these findings prior to Mr. Tripathy.

      These are his findings and likely his suggestions, which you could have easily accepted and said my state did these items to further strengthen any loopholes in the government processess.

      Be gentle and calm and donot increase your tension, as hypertension patient are effected most by this covid 19.

      Thanks and regards.

  4. Thanks for sharing, good to see the efficient work done by the Odisha government. And Kudos to you for observing the quarantine faithfully.

    It’s also amusing to read comments from retarded Bhakts, gnashing their teeth and tearing their Chaddis in rage. According to them only Modi and his litter works, everyone else is a duffer. Lage raho bhakton.

  5. I have scrolled through the comments section. I recommend some people Burnol as a first aid measure for immediate relief. It’s like ” if I can’t do this, then no one is allowed to do” or some sour grapes syndrome. At least we should appreciate some one doing a good job. In this regard, the Naveen Pattnaik government is doing a great job. Hates off to the guys who are managing in the background.

  6. I appreciate the action taken by govt of odisha to combat COVID 19, I salute all front officials and workers specifically police official.

  7. If orissa is quarantining people for 14 days only, they are making a huge mistake. Wuhan Corona Virus has a progression period of 3 to 24 days, which means some people may remain asymptomatic for as long as 24 days.

    A very risky approach, that may very well cause a major catastrophe.

  8. Uddhav Thakrey must learn from Mr. Naveen Pattnaik how to combat spreading of the deadly virus… He is more concerned about himself rather than its people.

  9. Your report is excellent but what is your contribution to the state or society after getting so much or you are like Muslims and leftists who only demand their rights but not fulfilling fundamental duties.

  10. I am aware of at least 3 other states where persons returning from abroad were contacted and checked regularly by the local officials based on the information provided by Immigration Authorities and shared with the States. So this article is obviously not reviewed by anyone in The Print and published without any factual verification, There is no issue if the author is impressed with Odisha government but he has no business to criticize without any specific proof other state governments. Besides, this article appears more as publicity stunt for the author rather than any serious though provoking piece. He should know that in Modi’s India, it is the Hard Work rather than Harvard that counts!

  11. A good positive note in this stressed time. Let us hope for the best. Naveen and team are definitely doing a great job.

  12. A positive note in this stressful time.
    Let us hope for the best.
    Odisha CM and his team is proactive in handling the crisis.

  13. Who are you?? Are you on protocol? Why the State officials contact you?? You are just a mediocre law teacher who is not liked by any student. This kind of self advertisement you can do on some social networking site. I wonder what kind of platform the print is which is allowing jokers to publish useless articles…..

  14. Odisha is good for strict ruling and more conscious than other state.Gurugram Sikandarpur is a place where police behave like public’s friend.No tight security here .In Sikandarpur everywhere is gathering no social distancing.So that Corona Virus is increasing rapidly.

  15. It is worth mentioning that dedicated Covid-19 Hospital already ready by Odisha Govt. Set up already ready by joint collaboration of KIIMS and GOVT of Odisha… Hats up to our CM

  16. Proper quarantine of all who came from abroad from mid January could have been done at hotels etc under public health supervision whatever the cost and they should not have been allowed to meet even their family members before 14 days. You should not trust individuals in life and death matters. This was basic public health. No kind of tests were even required.

  17. Stupid guy it was to be implemented by states. So stop nonsensical MODI BASHING . Doesn’t realise that there are less corona related deaths in INDIA THAN IN USA. It’s Harvard fool versus hardworking smartness

    • Don’t expect anything better, Harvard returned you see? This Modiphobia gets print space; otherwise who the hell cares who this dude is! Sure this will go as part of his CV and next article in Wire, Quint, The Hindu or NyT, WaPo, BBS,The Guardian. It is a contagion out there.

    • What’s the problem in Modi Bashing? He deserves that, who focuses on thali, bells, and recently Dia.
      When declaring something he does without plans.

  18. Is the incentive Rs. 15000 justified? Abroad study on scholarship and home vacation on state pay? Rickshaw pullers, wage earners and others do not deserve such help?

    However, a proactive administration deserves praise.

    • A really helpful and insightful piece, sir.
      Such articles and updates will help the state government plug in the loopholes and work more efficiently.
      Meanwhile, other states and the Centre really need to implement effective measures.

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