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More testing, daily detailed updates — Mamata’s Covid strategy sees major turnaround

Some attribute the change to pressure from Modi govt, others say discontent among people and top govt officers has made Bengal govt change track.

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Kolkata: There has been a vast change in the Mamata Banerjee government’s Covid-19 management strategy in West Bengal. 

Over the past 10 days, the Trinamool Congress government has become super active and is issuing daily detailed updates of Covid-19, including death figures — though with a separate category for those relating to co-morbidities — ramping up testing capacities and even downplaying a committee formed to ‘audit’ death cases.

Sources in the government and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) attributed this change in the Mamata government’s strategy to belated realisation in the ruling party about growing suspicion as well as resentment among people about the chief minister’s alleged attempt to suppress facts about the spread of the coronavirus in the state.

A section of government civil servants is also said to be getting restless about the administration’s attempt to push Covid-19 threat under the carpet. 

Trinamool leaders came to realise that with the rising number of cases in the state and across the country, it would be foolhardy to try to hide the reality and it could boomerang. 

Some TMC functionaries also pointed out the coincidence between Banerjee rethinking her Covid-19 strategy and the arrival of poll strategist Prashant Kishor in Kolkata.

As of Saturday afternoon, West Bengal has 795 cases and 33 deaths.


Also read: Bengal ranks lowest among all major states on Covid tests, even lower than Bihar, Jharkhand


CM backtracks on Covid death audit panel

The most significant change in Banerjee’s Covid-19 management strategy was when she claimed earlier this week that she didn’t form the audit committee, which was tasked to decide whether a Covid-19 patient had died due to the disease.

“I didn’t form the audit committee…The chief secretary and the departmental (Health) secretary are the authorised persons,” she said on 29 April.

Banerjee’s statement comes in the wake of the audit committee facing criticism from opposition parties and also from the central team that visited the state end-April to assess the Covid-19 situation.

The team had even sought details of the committee such as when it was formed, whether it is in line with the ICMR guidelines, evidence for determining the cause of death as Covid infection or comorbidity, etc.

High-powered Covid panel set up

Until 24 April, Banerjee was seen on the streets of Bengal — teaching people the norms of social distancing, drawing circles in front of markets to ensure people stand in queues, distributing masks and roaming around localities with a microphone, advising people to stay at home and apologising for the trouble caused by the Covid-19 crisis.

But since then, Banerjee has stopped venturing out.

On 27 April, after a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi via video conference, Banerjee said: “The PM told us that the states with many cases will not be blamed and states with lesser cases will not earn any credit. So, why should I take any responsibility now? We will follow all central guidelines.”

The same day, she formed a high-powered-committee for Covid-19 management to be headed by state’s finance and industry minister Amit Mitra, saying she has several other works to concentrate on. However, she said she would supervise the functioning of the committee.

That the state government doesn’t want to take a chance when it comes to managing the Covid-19 crisis can be gauged by its decision to transfer Superintendent of Murshidabad Medical College and Hospital Debdas Saha.

Saha was shunted out allegedly after an internal communication, asking doctors not to classify death of coronavirus positive patients as caused by Covid-19, got leaked. 

The ruling TMC, however, said the transfer was routine.


Also read: 3 Bengal districts tagged hotspot by Modi govt ‘haven’t reported Covid-19 cases in a week’


Ramping up testing capacities & detailed updates

From 17 April onward, Bengal saw a jump in per day Covid-19 testing. From around 250-300 tests a day, it took a sharp rise to around 1,000 tests per day. On 29 April, around 1,900 samples were tested, according to the state government’s official data.

One of the major changes in Banerjee’s strategy is her government sharing Covid-19 death figures.

Until 23 April, Bengal had pegged the number of Covid-19 deaths at 15. But on 24 April, the tally went up by three times to 57. This was the result of a probe by the central government team.

On 30 April, the government again shared death figures and said 105 Covid-19 positive patients have died so far.

But of these 105, chief secretary Rajiva Sinha said, 33 died of Covid-19 infection, while 72 succumbed to their comorbidities and that Covid-19 was only ‘incidental’ in those cases.

The government also came with the details of the number of red, green and orange zones in the last week of April.

According to the state government, there are 4 red, 11 orange and 8 green zones. This apart, Bengal has over 440 containment zones, including 264 in Kolkata alone.

Resentment among CM’s own officers

Opinion is divided on what caused such changes in the government’s Covid-19 management strategy.

Congress MP Adhir Chowdhury said the Banerjee government changed its stand under Centre’s pressure. “The central teams had a major role to play in this,” he said.

A senior TMC leader, however, said it was because of Prashant Kishor, who was trying to repair Banerjee’s image before the crucial assembly election due next year.

There has also been unease among Banerjee’s own top officers with regard to certain orders.

“There has been quite a resentment in the bureaucracy, especially in the health and food department. The officers were confused over several orders and the changes. Most of the time, there were knee-jerk reactions too and in many cases, senior officials, including secretaries and superintendents of hospitals, were transferred out,” a top civil servant told ThePrint.

A second senior TMC leader said it was not just the bureaucracy, but there was discontent in the party too.

“Initially we started very well, but things were later messed up. In fact, the crisis deepened and we were not able to counter or shut our opposition. They were getting a steady supply of clips and videos of several incidents and from hospitals,” said the leader, who didn’t want to be identified.

“These things made our position critical nationally. Some of the veteran leaders, however, put a brave face and tried to battle out such criticism, but it was becoming harder to defend the state on several accounts,” said the leader. 

Opposition accusations

State BJP president Dilip Ghosh said the Banerjee government has no place to hide now.

“The cat is out of the bag now. We have written many letters to the Centre elaborating on the malpractices happening in the state… Media is being intimidated everyday. Our national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya ji wrote open letters to the CM. Central ministers and our MPs are bringing out videos and clips of all misdeeds of the government on social media. They now do not have any place to hide,” Ghosh said.

Congress MP Chowdhury said: “… her government was criticised by the doctors’ forums. Many senior doctors took to social media to express their anxiety about the situation. I too had requested the Centre to look into the matter in Bengal.”

TMC’s Rajya Sabha MP Dr Shantanu Sen, however, told ThePrint, “The central teams were sent to politicise the entire crisis. They are doing that only.” 

Former Union minister and Rajya Sabha MP Dinesh Trivedi had tweeted: “Central teams are always welcome. State will cooperate. But is there a method Teams visit most districts in states with least active cases (sic).”


Also read: CM Mamata, Governor Dhankhar trade charges in letters as war of words escalates over Covid


 

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4 COMMENTS

  1. This city is painted blue and white matching her saree everywhere. You can now anticipate the authoritarian level, when parts of public and private is forcefully painted to match the leaders cloth.
    It feels like 1930.

  2. Why do Print and other so called secular media always whitewash non bjp CMs? This CM was rebel putting her people at grave risk of Covid 19 with her antics.

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