As West Bengal recorded the highest single-day increase in Covid-19 cases on Sunday, reporting 371 new patients, government officials said they were expecting a massive surge in cases in the next two weeks as at least five lakh migrant labourers are expected to return to the state.
According to the health bulletin, in which figures are updated till 9 am, eight people died of Covid-19 in 24 hours, taking the toll to 245. If deaths due to comorbidities are counted, the toll is 317.
Most of the latest cases were detected in Kolkata, where 72 infections were recorded, followed by 60 cases in North 24 Parganas district, 47 in Howrah, 43 in Hooghly, 36 in Cooch Behar, and 27 in Birbhum.
The rise in infections in Cooch Behar came a day after it became the final district to report Covid-19 cases. On Saturday, 32 migrant workers in the district who had recently returned from other states tested positive.
According to government data, the situation in the state has deteriorated since early May. On May 4, seven out of 23 districts had no Covid-19 cases, with one district having reported a case the month before and one district 15 days earlier.
At present, all districts, except Kalimpong, have reported cases over the past week. In Kalimpong, an infection was last recorded almost two months ago.
Since May 25, 1,645 new cases have been diagnosed across the state, with more than 300 cases reported on May 28, 30 and 31. On an average, cases rose by more than 250 a day during the week. The week before, the average increase was less than 200.
The state Health Department attributed this surge to the influx of migrant workers. “Three days ago, Cooch Behar had no Covid-19 patient, but within two days this district now has 68 positive cases, and almost all recently came from outside. Most of them are migrant labourers,” said an official.
Another official said, “We are expecting a massive surge within a week or two. The coming month, we will receive more than five lakh migrant workers. How many of them will carry the infection, we do not know. But, we have to face the situation.”
One of the regions where the return of migrants has caused infections to rise is North Bengal. According to Health Department data, North Bengal was almost free of infections till May 4. At the time, out of the eight districts in the region, no case had been reported in Alipurduar, Cooch Behar, Uttar Dinajpur, and Dakshin Dinajpur. Seven cases had been detected in Kalimpong, followed by six in Darjeeling, five in Jalpaiguri, and two in Malda.
This changed after the first week of May with the homecoming of thousands of migrants. On Sunday, the case count in North Bengal was 421, and the toll two.
Like North Bengal, the western districts of the state seemed fairly insulated from Covid-19 till May 4, with no case reported in Purulia, Bankura and Jhargram. At present, these districts have 49 positive cases. According to sources, more than 80% of the patients are migrant workers who have returned from other states, while the rest are related to them.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has blamed the Ministry of Railways for this infection spike, accusing it of ignoring her administration’s request to temporarily halt the Shramik Special trains repatriating the stranded migrants. At a press conference on Friday, Banerjee asked the Railways if it was running “corona express trains instead of Shramik Special trains”, and blamed it for undoing her government’s success in “controlling the spread of Covid-19 in the last two months” by packing the trains with labourers.
On Sunday, a top government official reiterated the Chief Minister’s accusations against the Centre, saying, “You cannot monitor individual migrant labourers who are coming to the states in lakhs. They were not staying in other states in hygienic conditions. They are also being sent back in crowded trains and buses. Many people are coming in late at night. Many of them are coming with Covid-19 infection.”
Meanwhile, the government said in the health bulletin that 187 people had been discharged from hospitals in 24 hours, pushing up the number of recovered patients to 2,157. The active case count increased to 3,027.
According to the health department, 9,354 samples were tested in a day. With this, the number of specimens examined increased to 2,03,751. The test positivity rate, according to the bulletin, is 2.70%. The government said 16,818 people were still in government quarantine, while 1,35,530 people remained quarantined at home.
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