With people in Kolkata crowding markets before Durga Puja and major political parties having taken to the streets over the past few weeks, some doctors and health experts are apprehensive about a surge in Covid-19 cases after the festival.
The warning comes amid a rise in the state’s active caseload in recent weeks, and a decline in the recovery rate in the past few days.
On October 7, a doctors’ organisation named Joint Platform of Doctors wrote to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, citing the case spikes in Kerala and Maharashtra after Onam and Ganesh Chaturthi. A steep rise had been recorded in Spain following International Women’s Day celebrations and a football match, said the doctors. The recent surge in Bengal had occurred after Mahalaya and Vishwakarma Puja, they added.
The doctors urged Banerjee to implement strict measures to prevent public gatherings during Durga Puja, warning that failure to do so might “lead to a tsunami of infections”. With the letter, they attached the three-day rolling average of daily Covid-19 infections in Kolkata. This indicates a significant rise in caseload, the organisation said.
“We would like to request you [Banerjee] to take necessary steps to stop gatherings at Puja pandals. And people stepping out of their homes must mandatorily wear masks. We believe, at this moment, these are the two major protocols people must follow,” the outfit wrote in the letter.
The platform’s joint convener, Punyabrata Goon, said, “We saw that the number of infections in West Bengal went up after Mahalaya and Vishwakarma Puja. It is an alarming signal. We have also seen how the situation deteriorated after priority was given to emotions to organise Onam festival, neglecting health protocols, in Kerala. Not only festivals, political gatherings also increase the chances of spreading more Covid infections.”
The doctors reminded the Chief Minister that Ganesh Chaturthi was a low-key affair in Maharashtra this year, while Garba has been cancelled in Gujarat. “In our state, too, Eid and Muharram were observed indoors. If we do not learn from these instances, and take precautionary measures to maintain health protocols during this Durga Puja, it can be suicidal. The situation may go out of hand leading to a tsunami of cases,” the doctors’ outfit said in its letter.
The platform is planning to write another letter to every political organisation in the state, alerting them about the prevailing situation. “We will write to every political organisation in the state, expressing our concern. Since they have major social reach, we will request them to approach common people and tell them to maintain health protocols during Durga Puja. We will also request them to maintain health protocols at their programmes,” said Goon.
Dr Abhijit Chowdhury, who is also a member of the state government’s advisory board, agreed that public gatherings during Puja would be disastrous.
“If we do not learn from Kerala and Maharashtra, what they were facing after Onam and Ganesh Chaturthi, then that will no doubt worsen the situation. It is not an unscientific explanation. So, in time of festival, we should maintain the health protocols,” he said.
The state administration said adequate measures were being taken to ensure everyone’s safety. “People have to follow the protocols while going out. We have to be alert. The state has taken all forms of precautionary measures. They should always be careful and wear masks. But if people do not follow them, there will always be a chance of a further spike in cases,” said a senior health official.
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