Kolkata: For the last two weeks, Kolkata has been witnessing a surge in Covid-19 cases, putting the city’s health infrastructure to test.
In the last 14 days, the West Bengal capital has recorded 2,600 new cases and over 100 deaths. The city has been struggling to contain its mortality rate even as it is running out of hospital beds amid allegations that the administration has been faltering on contact tracing.
While Bengal has been able to bring down its Covid mortality rate to 3.56 per cent from the initial 12 per cent, Kolkata’s death rate is still hovering around the 6 per cent mark. As of 4 July, there have been 418 deaths in the city.
According to Sunday’s state health bulletin, the city has had a total of 7,108 confirmed cases, of which 2,888 are still active while 4,402 people have been discharged.
Infections continue to soar, evidenced by the fact that there were 1,840 containment zones as of 3 July. On 4 July, however, the government tweaked the nomenclature and introduced the concept of ‘isolation units’.
According to the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC), isolation units are residential areas or units where asymptomatic patients have quarantined themselves.
Following the revision, Kolkata now has 18 containment zones and 1,872 ‘isolation units’.
Hospital space shrinking
The worrying trend for Kolkata is that the city is fast running out of beds.
For treatment, Kolkata has seven government designated Covid hospitals, of which three are privately owned. There are also 32 private hospitals and nursing homes spread across Kolkata district, Salt Lake and the New Town area with Covid beds. Though Salt lake and New Town administratively come under the North 24 Parganas district, they are considered a part of extended Kolkata city.
At the seven designated hospitals, there are 2,052 beds, of which, according to the health department, only 705 were vacant as of 5 July. A total of 1,347 patients are undergoing treatment for Covid in these seven hospitals.
Around 380 of these beds are available at the M.R. Bangur Hospital, the state’s first designated Covid hospital, which has faced allegations of keeping Covid-positive dead bodies inside the wards for days and also of being crowded, among others.
The situation is far more acute in the 32 private hospitals and nursing homes, which together have 1,138 beds. According to the update on the state’s website on 5 July, as many as 1,031 patients are undergoing treatment in these 32 institutions, leaving only 107 beds vacant.
The data on beds and number of ‘isolation units’ for asymptomatic Covid-positive patients raises another question as the total of 2,378 active cases (1,347+1,031) in hospitals and those in the 1,872 isolation units puts it at odds with the government data on total active cases in the city, pegged at 2,888.
Asked about this, a senior health department official told ThePrint that Kolkata hospitals also have cases from adjoining Howrah and North 24 Parganas districts.
Health Minister Chandrima Bhattacharya refused to comment on the matter and referred it to the health department.
Health Secretary N.S. Nigam told ThePrint that the government was ramping up efforts to get more beds. “The government is adding facilities and Covid beds every day. We are coming up with more space too.”
With soaring infections, there are allegations that the city has started faltering over contact-tracing. ThePrint spoke to at least four Covid-19 positive patients, who said they were never contacted by any health department or civic official for contact-tracing. Three of them are residents of south Kolkata while one lives in north Kolkata.
A senior health department official admitted that contact-tracing is becoming a difficult proposition now with this kind of a pressure on the health infrastructure.
But the administration told ThePrint it hasn’t slacked off on contact-tracing. “We are sending teams to houses and locations from where we are getting reports of Covid-19 positive patients. We have a different cell for contact-tracing,” Atin Ghosh, Kolkata Deputy Mayor in-charge of Health, told ThePrint.
Dr Abhijit Choudhury, member of Mamata Banerjee’s expert committee on Covid-19 treatment protocol, said, “We are supervising the hospitals and issuing suggestions almost every day to make the situation better. The discharge rate has improved remarkably. But as we unlock, the risk of infection gets higher than earlier. The vulnerable and senior citizens should be protected now.”
Kolkata, at present, has a discharge rate close to 62 per cent.
According to the health bulletin, the state is now testing 5,890 per million population and has a positivity rate of 4.01 per cent. West Bengal, as of 4 July, has 22,126 cases of which 6,658 are active. There have been 757 deaths so far across the state.