Ground Report | New Delhi: Covid-19 cases rise in Bengal; Recently in the middle week of October 2021, Indian Health Ministry released the official statement that 100 crore Covid-19 vaccines have been administered to the citizens of India since its release. After China, which has administered more than 200 crore doses, India is only the second country to have reached the landmark of 100 crore vaccine doses.
Reaching this landmark is quite a milestone indeed for the Health Ministry as in cumulative numbers too, India ranks second to China in fully vaccinating over 28 crore of its population that is 10 crores more than that of the US and equal to the total vaccinated population of Japan, Germany, France, Russia, and the UK put together.
But this milestone is not yet to be celebrated as in some states like West Bengal, it seems that the new 3rd wave of the novel coronavirus has started its effects resulting in a surge of covid-19 cases. The state government headquarters in Nabanna, Howrah released a statement where it was mentioned that it has requested all the private hospitals as well as the government ones to be ready for the 3rd covid-19 wave especially in the state capital city Kolkata as there is an uncertain situation after the Durga Puja.
Covid-19 cases rise in Bengal
In a virtual meeting, a senior health official in Kolkata said that preparations must be done by arranging adequate beds, oxygen, equipment, medicine, and logistics in case of emergencies by all the hospitals with a special focus on pediatric care. Members of the global advisory committee, set up by the state government, requested the administration on October 21, 2021, to be more vigilant during the forthcoming Diwali/Kali Puja celebrations in the state.
Some 867 new cases were recorded in the state on October 20, the highest for a day in the last four months. The last time the number was this high was July 21, when the statistic was 869. The total number of affected per day was around 700 during the whole of August and September. The positivity rate — the percentage of COVID-19 positive patients within those tested — was less than two percent.
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However, the statistic started to increase steadily once people began to shop in increasing numbers during Puja days. The positivity rate is currently hovering around 2.5-3 percent. Sources from the state health department disclosed the current positivity rates in various districts. These include:
Cooch Behar (8.7 percent), Purba and Paschim Medinipur (5 percent), Kalyani in Nadia (4.2 percent), Sagar Dutt Hospital in North 24 Parganas (3.7 percent), and Howrah and Hooghly (2-2.5 percent). Sri Bhumi, a Puja run by a minister in the ruling Trinamool Congress-led state government, had to be closed down to crowds during the festivities. This was after its pandal’s recreation of Burj Khalifa in Dubai attracted huge footfall. Several other signature Puja pandals (marquees) also drew crowds reminiscent of pre-pandemic days.(Covid-19 cases rise in Bengal)
An analysis by the Indian Institute of Mathematical Sciences shows that, between September 29 and October 18, the R-value in Kolkata – 1.06 – was the highest within India’s urban centers. In contrast, during the first fortnight of October, Delhi’s R-value stood at 0.9; Mumbai at 0.94; Pune at 0.96; Chennai at 0.98 and Bengaluru at 1.04. R-value signifies how many people are getting infected by one affected person. Values higher than 1 suggest that infection is on the rise.
Sitabhra Sinha, a scientist based in Chennai, who regularly analyses R-value, said, “The value is normally related to the events about two weeks before the assessment. Hence, one can link it to the pre-Puja congregations, be it shopping or otherwise. The analysis during late October is likely to show how much Puja exposure has contributed to the trend.” Sinha pointed out that since late July, Kolkata’s R-value had consistently remained over 1, indicating the high spread of infection in the city.
“Though the number of infected has increased post-Puja, most of them are asymptomatic,” Tapan Mukherjee, health advisor to the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, said. “The COVID-19 ward, which hardly had patients a few days back, is starting to fill up,” pointed out Arup Haldar, a pulmonologist and COVID-19 specialist, associated with a frontline private hospital in the city.
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Night curfew is back in place in the state since October 21, on the orders of Harikrishna Dwivedi, the chief secretary of state. He also stressed increasing COVID-19 testing and vaccination in a recent meeting with various government officials.
Containment zones have already come up in Howrah and North 24 Parganas, the districts with the highest number of daily cases after Kolkata. The Kolkata Municipal Corporation is likely to decide on the matter on Monday.
“Under such circumstances, the state government and district administrations have decided to bring in the containment zones. The night curfew, from 11 pm to 5 am, which was lifted during the puja, has been imposed again,” said a senior government official said. (Covid-19 cases rise in Bengal)
Already 56 containment zones have been declared in North 24 Parganas. In Howrah, 14 such zones have been introduced. Lockdown has been imposed in the Sonarpur municipality area in South 24 Parganas district of Bengal for three days. Sonarpur is about 20 km from the capital Kolkata. Shops selling medicine, milk, ration, and electrical goods are only being allowed to do business.
All major doctor associations have recently written to the Calcutta High Court, urging it to take ‘suo motu cognizance of the violation of its order regarding the observance of COVID-19 norms during the just-concluded Puja.
A letter written by Dr. Hiralal Konar and Dr. Punyabrata Gun representing the Joint Platform of Doctors, West Bengal, noted: … Even after the warning stroke of your Hon’ble Court, the people at large continue to gather around the Puja pandals, flouting all the Covid-appropriate protocol … unwarranted public gathering … has reached its peak now.
Another letter mentioned that “alarmingly, the COVID-19 scenario of our state has also rapidly deteriorated during this period” and added that “if the situation is not controlled even at this stage … people would (have to) run after oxygen and frantically search for hospital beds for themselves and their relatives”.
It added that political parties, the administration, and government would have to take the blame if another major pandemic surge hit. “We seem to be beckoning the third wave,” Manas Gupta, a physician and secretary of the Association of Health Service Doctors said.
“There was all-round laxity during Durga Puja, which is likely to push the situation out of bounds unless we immediately re-impose strict COVID-19 norms within people and increase the rate of testing and vaccination in the state,” said Sukumar Mukherjee, member of the expert committee that was set up in 2020 to advise chief minister Mamata Banerjee on pandemic-related matters.
“During yesterday’s committee meeting, I suggested that the testing may be increased to 50,000 and the vaccination to a million daily, Covid-19 safety protocols were rampantly flouted during the festive season. Many were not wearing masks, leaving aside social distancing and sanitizing. Two weeks following the puja would be very crucial,” Mr. Mukherjee added.
West Bengal recorded over 800 new COVID-19 cases for the second consecutive day on Tuesday the 26th of October, after registering nearly 1000 infections for a couple of days, according to the health department data. The state reported 806 new cases on Tuesday, one more than the previous day’s figure, pushing the tally to 15,88,066, while 15 fresh fatalities took the death toll to 19,081. The Centre has asked the West Bengal government to immediately undertake a review of COVID-19 cases and deaths and stressed the importance of ensuring Covid-safe festivities.