Worried about the Covid-19 situation in six North Bengal districts, the West Bengal government is preparing to earmark more hospital beds and step up testing to stem the infection surge.
Earlier this week, the rising infection curve in the region had worried the state administration enough to impose comprehensive lockdown in five cities from July 15.
Of the six districts in focus, the government is most alarmed about the situation in Darjeeling, Malda, and Dakshin Dinajpur, where caseloads have increased at least 150 per cent this month. The infection growth rate in the districts of Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar, and Uttar Dinajpur, has been a little slower.
In June, Darjeeling recorded 467 cases, while this month the district has already reported 749 infections. Similarly, Malda has added 980 infections to its caseload, compared to 507 the month before. The infection growth has also picked up in Dakshin Dinajpur, with 432 cases in the last 18 days, compared to 199 in June. Its active case count at present is 331, the third-highest in North Bengal.
The situation is marginally better in neighbouring Uttar Dinajpur, which has an active caseload of 209 at present. Both the Dinajpur districts had the same number of active cases at the start of the month (66). Uttar Dinajpur has seen its caseload increase 86 per cent this month, while it has jumped over 200 per cent in Dakshin Dinajpur.
With the surge in cases in these six districts, the recovery rate has declined. It was 61.35 per cent on Saturday, down from 70 per cent at the start of the month.
Officials, however, have been provided some relief by a low case fatality rate in these districts, with a bulk of the deaths occurring down south in Kolkata and its adjoining districts.
“We are very much worried that these six districts of North Bengal are gradually gathering speed in terms of tested positive cases. So, the government decided that complete and strict lockdown should be imposed in five towns in these districts to control the number of Covid-infected people,” said a senior Department of Health official.
Of these cities, the most disquieting situation is in Siliguri (Darjeeling district) and Malda, which have seen almost 100 per cent rise in cases in the first two weeks this month.
“People in these two towns particularly did not maintain social distancing and other security protocols, and this tendency increased the positivity rate in these two towns. So, we have no other option but to control the disease in these two towns,” said a health official.
The government did not want to take any chance in the densely populated cities of Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar and Raiganj, and imposed strict curbs there too.
To withstand the surge in cases, the district administrations in the region are preparing to increase the number of hospital beds earmarked for Covid-19 patients, and increase testing.
Malda District Magistrate Rajarshi Mitra told The Indian Express, “We have 70 beds, out of which 45 are occupied by active corona patients. Six patients are in safe homes, and the rest 350 patients are in home isolation. However, we are looking for more beds, and from July 22 we will have 200 more beds in the trauma care centre of our super specialty hospital.”
Darjeeling’s Chief Medical Officer of Health (CMOH) Dr Proloy Acharya said, “We will have 175 more beds within one week exclusively for Covid patients.”
Mitra said the Malda administration had increased cluster-wise testing to identify patients, adding, “We are locating areas through Google Maps. Those who are in home isolation, our tele-caller team is regularly calling them and providing physicians’ advice.”
Officials in Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and the other districts said they were placing emphasis on door-to-door testing.
“We are collecting samples in the Siliguri corporation area and Matigara area, where a lot of patients are being found. We are also preferring home isolation,” said Dr Acharya.
The district administrations are worried about the lack of awareness among people about the importance of measures such as hand sanitisation and maintaining cleanliness.
“We have no other option other than conducting campaigns about Covid prevention. We are going around with mikes and campaigning using other means, and these have given positive results,” said Dr Acharya.
In addition to the pandemic, a flood-like situation in Jalpaiguri, and two to three other districts have added to officials’ woes.
“Tista, Torsa and some other rivers are flowing at dangerous levels. Some areas in Jalpaiguri are going through a flood-like situation. Now, if the situation worsens, then controlling infections amid a flood will complicate matters. So, we are very much worried about the developments in North Bengal,” said a senior state secretariat official.
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