With both Covid-19 cases and deaths in Kolkata continuing to increase at an alarming pace, officials and healthcare workers are worried about the burden on the city’s hospitals, and fear the disease may spread to other districts.
Till Monday, Kolkata accounted for 33% of total infections and over 60% of the patients who have died till date — the most in the state.
Kolkata has three dedicated state-run Covid-19 hospitals — MR Bangur and ID Hospital, which has more than 500 beds, Calcutta Medical College, and KPC Medical College, both of which have 1,000 beds. Some private hospitals are also admitting Covid-19 patients, but they have fewer beds, and are costlier.
Last Friday, the Supreme Court had strongly criticised the governments of West Bengal, Delhi and three other states for their handling of the Covid crisis, and directed them to take “immediate remedial action”.
A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, S K Kaul, and M R Shah had expressed concern over the “grim situation” in Maharashtra, West Bengal, Gujarat, and Tamil Nadu, and directed the chief secretaries to “immediately take appropriate notice of the status of patients’ management in the Government hospital in their respective States and take remedial action”.
Last week, the West Bengal government’s decision to turn Sagar Dutta Medical College in North 24 Parganas district into a Covid-19 facility ran into trouble as junior doctors and interns protested, saying it would be detrimental for patients suffering from other diseases.
On Monday morning, hundreds of local people blocked BT Road, demanding that the government withdraw its order. Some of the protesters allegedly ransacked a local Trinamool Congress office, drawing retaliation from workers of the ruling party, who allegedly assaulted some of the demonstrators. In the evening, CPI(M) and Congress workers were lathi-charged after they surrounded the local Belgharia police station.
“Kolkata has the maximum Covid-19-dedicated hospitals. Calcutta Medical College and MR Bangur Hospital have huge bed strength. Then also we are failing to accommodate all the patients. That’s why recently we decided to take over one more government medical college as Covid hospital,” said a senior health department official.
The official expressed concern that with lockdown being lifted in non-containment areas, and economic activities restarting, the disease will spread even more as lakhs of people from other districts are travelling to the city for work. Apart from Howrah and North 24 Parganas, which already have a heavy caseload, districts such as Hooghly, Purba and Paschim Bardhaman, Nadia, and Purba and Paschim Medinipur are at risk.
“Kolkata has a high density of population. So, in Kolkata Covid-19 spread very quickly. From the very first day, Kolkata has had more patients compared to other districts. But, the problem is when ‘Unlock’ will be completed, trains service will start, then social distancing will not be maintained. Then Covid-19 will spread even more,” the official added.
Association of Health Service Doctors general secretary Dr Manas Gumta said in Kolkata the number of patients was expected to double by June-end. “In West Bengal, the number will cross 20,000 mark. So, we have to arrange some bigger areas that can accommodate more than a thousand patients who are asymptomatic or those who are mildly symptomatic,” he added.
Dr Gumta claimed the government was already failing to accommodate all the patients. “That is why they are discharging patients who are now asymptomatic. Doctors also are giving advice to the patients who are mildly symptomatic to stay at home. But, in our country, we do not have sufficient infrastructure to keep mildly symptomatic patients at home. So, we need more and more space. But, our government is not realising the situation,” he added.
However, Trinamool Congress MP Santanu Sen, who is a doctor by profession, disagreed with this assessment. “Government is doing whatever they think is necessary. Till today, no patient has returned home without treatment. Government has already declared KPC Medical College a Covid-19 hospital, and Sagar Dutta Medical College will also start working as Covid-19 hospital very soon. If the number [of patients] increases further, the government will make necessary arrangements,” he added.
The head of state-run SSKM Hospital’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Dr Rajesh Pramanik, pointed out that all major cities such as Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata, and Delhi had bigger caseloads than smaller cities, and villages because of higher population density. “But, now the government also cannot extend lockdown because of the economic condition of the country. So, one has to maintain social distancing and take other precautions to avoid Covid-19 infection. There is no other alternative,” he added.
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