Kolkata: West Bengal’s Covid caseload has risen exponentially since the state government temporarily lifted curbs for people to celebrate Christmas and New Year.
Bengal’s Covid positivity rate shot up to 19.59 per cent Monday, from 1.49 per cent on Christmas eve, according to the state government’s health bulletin.
Meanwhile, Kolkata’s positivity rate has hit 38.37 per cent — according to health ministry data based on RAT and RT-PCR tests conducted between 28 December and 3 January — one of the highest in the country.
In the last week of December, when there was rising concern over the Omicron variant of the coronavirus — which is now spreading quickly across the country — the Mamata Banerjee government had not only lifted the night curfew for Christmas and New Year, but also allowed restaurants and bars to remain open till late.
The chief minister herself inaugurated the Kolkata Christmas Carnival — which attracts massive crowds each year, not only from the city but also from adjoining districts — at Park Street on 20 December. State Chief Secretary H.K. Dwivedi, then Kolkata police commissioner Soumen Mitra and many Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders also attended the event.
On 3 January, West Bengal reported 6,078 new Covid-19 cases, of which 2,801 were in Kolkata alone. According to health ministry data, 20 cases of the Omicron variant had been detected in the state till 3 January.
As the state grapples with these rising cases, it is also gearing up for civic body elections in four districts — Bidhannagar, Chandannagar, Asansol and Siliguri — scheduled for 22 January, and the annual Gangasagar Mela where over five lakh pilgrims take the holy dip, on Makar Sankranti next week.
Dr Kunal Sarkar, a cardiac surgeon at the Medica Superspecialty Hospital in Kolkata, expressed concern over the state’s preparedness amid the rise in cases.
“The worry at this point in time in Kolkata would be the galloping positivity rates considering the fact that we aren’t an international airport hub, but we managed to outdo both Delhi and Mumbai and record positivity well in excess of 30 per cent,” he told ThePrint.
“There is already pressure on hospital beds but we aren’t seeing a huge amount of oxygen dependency or critical care need. Erratic moves by the state administration have further added fuel to the fire. We need restraint and to avoid large public gatherings, given there is election and Gangasagar mela in the offing this month,” he further said.
Dr Shyam Krishnan, consultant, pulmonology, at Calcutta Medical Research Institute (CMRI), added that the “reason for the steep spike in Covid cases is very obvious — the nature of the strain, Christmas revelry and the season have been the main factor”.
“I would have been surprised had there not been a spike looking at the pictures from Park Street on Christmas Day. People have been complacent when it comes to wearing masks and adhering to social distancing,” he said.
A healthcare worker, on condition of anonymity, told ThePrint: “Most hospitals are in a mess as healthcare workers are falling ill. This time, it will be more a manpower situation than an infrastructure issue as was witnessed during the Delta outbreak.”
Police personnel, medical professionals testing positive
A worrying factor for the state government is the rising number of Covid cases among medical professionals and police.
As reported in the Bengali media, at least 86 police personnel and five IPS officers who were on duty Christmas night have tested positive for Covid.
West Bengal Cabinet Minister Arup Biswas, TMC leaders Babul Supriyo, Derek O’Brien and Kunal Ghosh are also down with the virus.
In Kolkata’s government-run NRS Medical College and Hospital, at least 70 doctors and nurses have reportedly tested positive.
Measures taken by state
On Sunday, Chief Secretary H.K. Dwivedi had addressed the media, stating that, according to the CM’s instructions, the state has decided to reinforce Covid curbs. Educational institutions, salons, gyms, spas, swimming pools, tourist attractions, zoo and safaris will now stay closed. Restaurants, pubs and malls will be allowed to operate at 50 per cent capacity.
Dwivedi has instructed the police to strictly enforce use of masks among the public. Between Sunday midnight and Monday afternoon, at least 374 people were reportedly booked for not wearing masks.
The Kolkata Municipal Corporation has identified 25 containment zones in the city, where a large number of cases are being reported.
The state government has also decided to allow flights from Delhi and Mumbai only on Mondays and Fridays.
As on 3 January, only 2.63 per cent Covid beds were occupied in the state — 18,612 patients were under home isolation and 1,420 hospitalised, according to the state health department.
The state government has a total of 23,947 hospital beds earmarked for Covid patients, and 4,139 ICU beds in Covid hospitals.
‘Complete disaster,’ says Opposition
Soon after the state government announced reinforcement of curbs Sunday, the Opposition was quick to take on the TMC government. Leader of the Opposition Suvendu Adhikari, a BJP member, tweeted: “Nabanna (the state secretariat) made Covid surge… Ultimately the public is forced to sacrifice livelihood with curbs that follow.”
Nabanna made Covid surge:
Christmas celebration ✓
New Year celebration ✓
TMC Foundation Day celebration ✓@egiye_bangla; as the name suggests always ahead in disaster & public health mismanagement.
Ultimately the public is forced to sacrifice livelihood with curbs that follow. pic.twitter.com/4ngRcWI1IK
— Suvendu Adhikari • শুভেন্দু অধিকারী (@SuvenduWB) January 2, 2022
At a press conference Tuesday, CPI(M) leader Dr Sujan Chakraborty slammed the state’s decision to impose Covid curbs: “Where is the expert committee report? There is no logic in keeping pubs open, but schools closed. It’s a complete disaster.”
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)