New Delhi: The Union health ministry has written to the Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal to be cautious about any possible outbreak of dengue, which might spread from Bangladesh to the state, at a time when it is busy tackling the coronavirus pandemic.
Bengal shares a 2,217-km-long border with the neighbouring country.
Bangladesh has reported 271 dengue cases until 31 March from January as against 73 in the corresponding period last year. The country had reported a total of 101,334 cases and 179 deaths last year — the highest since 2000.
An official of the health ministry, who didn’t want to be named, told ThePrint the letter was sent by Union Health Secretary Preeti Sudan last Friday.
“The letter asked the Bengal government to maintain strict protocol of dengue prevention, regular spraying of disinfectant at public places, cleaning of open water sources and spreading communication about dengue and ensure availability of dengue test kits at hospitals,” the official added.
The ministry reminded the Bengal government that last year it had reported several dengue cases, which is why it should not overlook it.
“West Bengal shares the longest border with Bangladesh and last year, dengue cases were alarming in West Bengal. Since cases in Bangladesh are rising, Bengal should be prepared to manage the situation. The entire health infrastructure in Bengal is fighting the coronavirus now, but the state should not overlook the dengue outbreak. It will be challenging for the state to manage two endemics at the same time,” the official added.
Last year, 44,852 dengue cases were reported in West Bengal, particularly from North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas, Howrah and Hooghly.
The health ministry has sent similar letters to Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram governments as all these states share borders with Bangladesh, asking them to be prepared to tackle the dengue outbreak.
Normally, dengue cases start coming up during monsoon, but this year it started early in Bangladesh.
“Mosquitoes travel from one place to another. Poor sanitation, rapid urbanisation, poor living conditions give rise to dengue cases. There are a lot of under construction sites in Dhaka, which are breeding grounds of dengue mosquitoes,” said a Dhaka-based health specialist, who didn’t want to be named.
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Centre unhappy with Bengal
The central government isn’t quite happy with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s handling of the coronavirus crisis in the state.
Last Friday, during a meeting of all health ministers of the states via video conference, West Bengal was conspicuous by its absence. The health department in Bengal is managed by Banerjee herself.
A second health ministry official told ThePrint that Union Health Secretary Sudan, in the meeting, without taking Bengal’s name, said: “I don’t want to name the state, they know how they are handling the coronavirus issue.”
In the last ten days, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has written thrice to Bengal, expressing dissatisfaction with the manner in which the lockdown has been enforced in the state.
The first letter was sent on 4 April, the second on 10 April and the third on 12 April.
In the letter dated 10 April, the home ministry had listed a number of places in Kolkata where it claimed there “are no regulations”.
Of the seven places in Kolkata named in the letter, five — Rajabazaar, Topsia, Metiabruz, Garden Reach and Ikbalpur — are Muslim-dominated regions.
In the letter sent by MHA Deputy Secretary Srinivasu K. to the state on 12 April, the ministry stated: “It has been reported that there was a large assembly of people in establishments dispensing essential and non-essential commodities in Siliguri and Murshidabad districts. It is requested to take strict action against violators and prevent any such recurrence in future.”
Mamata hiding number of Covid-19 cases: BJP
The Bengal BJP, meanwhile, has accused the chief minister of hiding the number of coronavirus cases.
A BJP delegation even met Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar last week and urged him to raise the matter with the state government to ensure that accurate data is disseminated.
Talking to ThePrint, Kailash Vijayvargiya, BJP general secretary in-charge of West Bengal said: “Forget about the BJP, even doctor associations have asked the state government to update daily cases on the state government website. Mamata is not even releasing regular health bulletins like the central government. Why is Mamata hiding cases of coronavirus?
“She has allowed Friday namaz in every district, flower markets are open, is this a lockdown?” he asked.
A few days ago, BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP Swapan Dasgupta had tweeted a copy of a message “circulated to WA (WhatsApp) group of senior bureaucrats” in Bengal.
According to the message, all district magistrates were asked not to respond to any health-related queries or messages from the central government.
Also read: ‘Mamata is misleading people and lying’ — opposition alleges suppression of Covid-19 data