Nine home; one to go. Early to respond to a looming covid-19 crisis, Chhattisgarh is on the verge of seeing its only remaining novel coronavirus patient—a teenager recuperating at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Raipur—go home to flatten the curve, nicely contrasting the country’s sudden spike in cases.

The state did well in dealing with the twin challenges of a health epidemic and a likely protracted lockdown.

The government led by chief minister Bhupesh Baghel contained the spread of the virus and provided for food supplies to its mostly agrarian and tribal population, despite the geographical problems. It also maintained a strict lockdown in its congested central urban and industrial region.

However, there are ominous signs of a far-reaching economic meltdown. In the industrial zones around Raipur, mainly in its steel, thermal, ancillary and other small-scale industries, hundreds of migrants from within the state and outside have gone home. Moreover, several thousands are stranded and need to be taken care of by the government.

There is no work in the villages. In some pockets along the Mahanadi basin, the Rabi crop has been harvested but may not fetch good prices as the markets are in a slump.

“People, whatever background they are from, are observing a total lockdown,” said Lalit Surjan, veteran journalist and managing editor of Hindi daily Deshbandhu. A lockdown extension would mean people will not be able to migrate to other states for work.

The state reacted on the side of extreme caution and very early, given the vast poor and vulnerable populations it has. “As early as on 27 January, we had our rapid response teams headed by the collectors at the district levels in place,” health minister T.S. Sinhdeo said over phone from Raipur. That was much before the country even considered covid-19 a crisis. “We kept a close eye on the emerging global situation and took on board not only the administration but also medical experts,” he said.

The state has some very good civil society organizations working for the community healthcare, he said.

The government put protocols and procedures in place. It invoked the Special Public Safety Act and identified places for isolation and contact tracing. The state-level command and control centre in Raipur meets every day as do district teams to ensure coordination between various state departments.

Chhattisgarh set up dedicated covid-19 facilities at the district level. Raipur has facilities to deal with serious cases and the government has also acquired some private facilities to set up isolation beds.

For each function, such as a command centre, medical equipment supplies, quarantine at home, facility quarantine, contact tracing, community tracing and testing, the government set up dedicated teams headed by IAS officers and supported by subject experts, Sinhdeo explained.

“We heeded to experts from day one. That worked,” the minister said.

The state hasn’t recorded a fresh case of covid-19 in the past five days.

When the state enforced a total lockdown on 21 March, it aimed to distribute two months’ ration to needy families. That apart, it set up in every district, shelter homes for stranded labourers from within the state or outside, beggars, or others not having access to food. Every district collector and each of the 11,500 village panchayats have been allotted a stipulated quantity of grain to be used in case of any unforeseen exigency.

Jaideep Hardikar is a freelance journalist based out of Nagpur.

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