After being stuck for weeks and months in a dark tunnel of fears and uncertainties thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic and its second wave, the people and businesses of Odisha are finally seeing the light, a clear glimmer of hope, at the end of it. After all, Covid numbers in the state have been steadily trending downwards over the past four weeks, with daily new cases dropping below the 3,000 mark twice over the past five days.

Make no mistake about it, the danger is far from over. It lurks in the form of Delta-Plus (a variant of the highly transmissible Delta strain of coronavirus that drove the second wave of Covid-19 in India and is expected to account for around 90% of new cases in Europe by August end), the first case of which was reported in Odisha yesterday.

Besides, people’s adherence to pandemic safety guidelines during the ongoing partial lockdown still leaves much to desired. This raises the spectre of a third Covid wave, which can not only undermine public health and the state’s economy but also spell disaster for non-essential shops and businesses that have remained completely shut for nearly two months in Odisha.

Yet, under the resolute, compassionate and resourceful leadership of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, hope prevails in the state.

Just as he always prioritises the safety and well-being of the most vulnerable lot during natural calamities, he has continued to do so – without fail – even amidst the pandemic.

The most recent example of that was his announcement yesterday of financial assistance for the 1.2 lakh dairy farmers of Odisha State Cooperative Milk Producers Federation (Omfed), who had suffered many hardships since the outbreak last year as demand for milk and milk products declined during the pandemic and plummeted during the lockdown periods. The financial assistance of up to Rs 6,000, which will cost the state exchequer Rs 11 crore, will provide them with much-needed relief from their expenses on animal fodder.

Five days earlier, the five-time Chief Minister launched the much-applauded Ashirbad scheme, which will provide monthly financial assistance of Rs 2,500 to Covid orphans and Rs 1,500 to children who have lost one of their parents to the virus.

His firm resolve to make Odisha free from coronavirus as swiftly as possible is also evident in the way his government is considering the use of drones to transport Covid vaccines to the remotest corners of the state. It was heartening to know that these drones have been developed locally by students of Industrial Training Institute (ITI), Cuttack, with the support of IG Drones. Nobody has forgotten how the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation used drones to sanitise the state capital’s market areas during the thick of the pandemic last year.

However, not many perhaps realise that these are all results of the ‘Skilled in Odisha’ mission that the Naveen Patnaik government had started over half a decade ago to boost the employability, productivity and income of the state’s working population and make it better prepared for present and future challenges.

Back in the seafaring days of old, an able captain often made all the difference between life and death when a ship ran into rough weather. As Odisha negotiates the twists and turns of the Covid-19 storm today, it is lucky to have one.

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