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Durga Puja pushes Bengal Covid positivity rate to 2.5, but govt says disease is less severe

State’s health department claims the situation is under control as most cases are infections of AY variant of Delta strain, which is ‘less virulent and has less severity’.

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Kolkata: Over the past fortnight, since Durga Puja concluded on 15 October, West Bengal has witnessed a rising Covid graph. The positivity rate has almost doubled, from around 1.4 before the festival to 2.5 as on 1 November. 

The state has been registering around 800 fresh cases everyday, with Kolkata recording the highest number of infections at 200 cases a day. 

However, top officials of West Bengal’s health department claim that the situation is under control, as most of the cases are infections of the AY variant of the Delta strain, which according to the experts, is  “less virulent and has less severity” among the infected. Doctors are also attributing the less severe infections to vaccination. 

Bengal was registering around 600 fresh cases on average in October before Durga Puja, but the number jumped to around 800 on average afterwards. 

The state has around 8,146 active cases, of whom only 1,191 people are hospitalised.

Talking to ThePrint, Ajoy Chakraborty, Bengal’s director of health services, said, “We will get a clearer picture after Diwali and Kali Puja. The current strain of the virus, called the AY strain of Delta, seems to be less virulent. The ICU beds are not being used and not many patients need oxygen support. The vaccination drive seems to have had its effect. The present situation looks to be under control. We have only 1/8th of the total active cases in hospitals; people are recovering at home.” 

Around 34 per cent of Bengal’s total eligible population has received both vaccine shots, while around 70 per cent people have got at least one dose, said another top health department official.

According to data published by the health department on 1 November, Bengal has 5,61,58,881 people who received their first dose, while around 2,15,59,199 persons are now fully vaccinated. The state has around seven crore people eligible for the vaccine. 

However, even though government officials are claiming to have the situation under control, the Narendra Modi government has raised concerns over Bengal’s rising Covid graph. 

Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan, in a letter dated 22 October, had flagged an increase in case numbers in Kolkata and the rise in positivity rate.

Also read: Novavax’s Covid vaccine, made by Serum Institute of India, gets emergency use nod in Indonesia

Vaccines have worked, say doctors

There are ‘breakthrough infections’, meaning double vaccinated persons are getting infected, but they are recovering fast with no critical intervention, experts told ThePrint. 

Dr Arpan Chakraborty, critical care and lung specialist at Medica Hospital, said, “The situation is no way near what we faced during the second wave. It is true that the number of patients has increased post Durga Puja, but most of them are having flu-like symptoms. They are recovering at home. Infections are more seen among frontline workers, who took both doses seven to eight months back. The antibodies may have started wearing off in some of them. We are noticing the effect of vaccines; Covishield is specifically doing very well. Severity has gone down to a great extent.”

Dr Shyam Krishnan, consultant pulmonologist with CMRI Hospital, concurred. 

“The recovery rate is high and people are recovering fast. We do not have many patients on ventilator; the need for oxygen has also reduced,” Krishnan said. “The cases look manageable and many of them are getting cured in 5 to 6 days. During the second wave, patients used to be in ICU for three weeks or a month. Many needed ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation).”

Commenting on the AY strain, Krishnan said, “Even though we do not do regular genomic analysis, the current strain does not look virulent, but it spreads.”

Dr Kunal Sarkar, senior cardiologist and public health expert, warned that there was no place for complacency.  

“Vaccination in Bengal is acceptable, but it is not robust. We are still at around 33 per cent for double vaccinated people. Moreover, we still refuse to test more than a mediocre level,” Sarkar said. “Kolkata, despite recording a good number of cases, is probably saved by its earlier exposure to the virus during the second wave, and vaccination. But there is no place for complacency.” 

Rise after Diwali?

After staying suspended for over seven months, the Bengal government has allowed local train services to resume, and is now getting ready to open schools and colleges. The Covid restrictions have been eased for Diwali and Kali Puja in the state.

“We are expecting a further rise in the rate of infection, but if we can accelerate the vaccination process, we will be able to keep it under control,” said a second health official. 

ThePrint checked with two major government hospitals — SSKM and Calcutta Medical College — for the occupancy of beds. The officials in-charge said they have empty Covid beds and there is no dearth of ICU beds or oxygen. According to the the Bengal government’s real-time Covid bed status, the major private hospitals in Kolkata have around 20 to 25 per cent of their total beds occupied. 

“This looks manageable as of now. But we are expecting an increase in infections as most people are not wearing masks. We have now set up around 105 oxygen plants. The health infrastructure received a major boost during the second wave,” said Ajoy Chakraborty, the director of health services. 

(Edited by Arun Prashanth)

Also read: Covid-19: Thailand opens for vaccinated tourists, island nation Tonga locks down after 1st case


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