Updated: April 13, 2021 5:48:59 am
With West Bengal recording a massive surge in Covid-19 cases amid an eight-phase Assembly election, health officials and doctors on Monday warned that the second wave of the pandemic would worsen in the coming days and expressed concern about the strain it would place on the state’s health system. The statements came as several hospitals notified that they had run out of vaccines.
In the last three days, the state has recorded 12,952 new cases while 36 have people died. On Monday, Bengal registered its highest single-day jump in cases with 4,511 new infections. Bengal’s active caseload has shot up to 26,531 from just 5,152 two weeks ago, and according to sources, the positivity rate in the second wave is between 20-25 per cent. The bed occupancy figure is up from about four per cent in February to 28.15 per cent.
The state on Monday received four lakh doses, days after writing to the Centre about the shortage in several hospitals. Sources in the health department said that while on average between four lakh to five lakh people should get vaccinated daily, about two lakh people were getting their shots at present. On Monday, 2.32 lakh people were vaccinated while only 53,922 received their shots the day before.
Many doctors wondered why the elections were still going on. “Bengal wants to know, does the Election Commission still think that an eight-phase election with unlimited public gatherings [is] appropriate? Exponentially increasing cases in West Bengal, most hospitals are filling up fast,” tweeted senior cardiac surgeon Kunal Sarkar.
He said, “After polls, the situation in Bengal will be like that after the Kalinga war, where victory had come at a price of lakhs of dead bodies. I wonder if the future chief minister of Bengal will have a similar destiny.”
Dr Sarkar added, “Public health officials in Bengal are also hypnotised by the political process. Last time, it was migrant labourers, this time it is migrant politicians. We came out of 70 days lockdown with a seven-fold increase in infections. It is better to jump off the Howrah Bridge than think of lockdown. As far as Bengal is concerned, the public health department is equally distracted. The infection rate has reached about 40 per cent.”
Though the Election Commission (EC) on April 9 asked political parties to adhere to Covid safety protocols at public meetings and rallies, several doctors claimed every party was flouting the safety measures.
“The Commission has repeatedly informed district officials and instructed people to follow Covid protocols strictly,” said Additional CEO Sanjay Basu.
A senior doctor said, “Migrant labourers who had no option had spread the disease [last year]. This time, it is well-equipped politicians. Why couldn’t the Election Commission conduct the election without roadshows? They could have imposed restrictions on the number of people attending the public meetings. Who will take the responsibility for the worst days that we are going to see?”
The alarm bells were first sounded in March, about 10 days before the first phase of the election, as the Joint Platform of Doctors wrote to the EC about the rising cases. According to doctors, many patients are being admitted to Covid ICUs and high dependency units (HDUs) but there are not enough beds in these units in several hospitals. There is also a lack of ventilators, according to health workers.
Association of Health Service Doctors, West Bengal, general secretary Dr Manas Gumta said the current situation was frightful. “We are scared to imagine the post-poll situation. If we don’t receive a new consignment of vaccines, then even the vaccination drive has to be stopped for some time. We are still not testing enough samples. If adequate tests are conducted, I am sure the number will be five times more, close to 20,000 new cases daily. We, as doctors, are feeling helpless and are now fed up writing letters to political parties and the Election Commission, appealing to them to look into the current situation. We wrote to the state government, even marked the PMO in a tweet so that everyone takes adequate measures. But now everything has gone out of control. We should be ready to lose many more lives in the coming days.”
He warned that the health system could collapse and added, “The current situation is the worst since the state is in crisis due to shortage of vaccines. People are going mad over the Swasthya Sathi card or Ayushmann Bharat scheme but these will be of no use when hospitals fill up.”
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