The number of novel coronavirus cases in West Bengal are characterised by a “very low rate of testing” and “the highest rate of mortality” in the country, the Centre said in a scathing observation Wednesday.
In a two-page letter to West Bengal Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said stricter enforcement of lockdown was necessary and the problems have arisen due to ostracism of healthcare professionals and lack of quarantine facilities in the state.
“The response to COVID-19 in the state of West Bengal is characterised by a very low rate of testing in proportion to the population, and a very high late of mortality of 13.2 per cent for the state, by far the highest for any state,” Sinha said in the letter.
The home secretary said instances of overcrowding in ‘bazaars’ (markets) with poor sanitation, free movement of people in large numbers without masks, bathing of people in rivers, people playing cricket and football, serious laxity in enforcing lockdown measures in containment zones, plying of rickshaws without any restriction are grave violation of lockdown instructions and social distancing norms. These are all examples of poor supervision and implementation of crowd-control measures by district authorities, he said.
“The state should also ensure that the quality of PPEs and N-95 mask conforms to ICMR standards and protective equipment is available to doctors and medical staff in non-COVID hospitals also,” the letter read.
In another point, the Centre also urged the state to “pay attention to the well-being of poor and migrant labourers in accordance with government guidelines and share information on the steps taken to mitigate their hardships.”
Bhalla’s letter came following the report submitted by two Inter-Ministerial Central Teams (IMCTs) sent to the state to take stock of the preparedness against the COVID-19 pandemic in the state.
The central teams that visited Kolkata, Howrah and certain other districts in West Bengal, in its report, said the state has the highest mortality rate among Covid-19 patients in the country, and accused it of low testing, weak surveillance and discrepancies in reporting cases.
With West Bengal changing protocol since April 30 to reflect all Covid-19 patients in daily statistics and death certificates, the IMCT praised this as well, but flagged the non-cooperation of the state bureaucracy, and urged the state to take its suggestions “in the right spirit”.
The Centre had constituted 10 IMCTs to tour certain districts in states such as West Bengal, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. The teams — which the Centre said had to be constituted because there were “routine violation of lockdown guidelines” in these states — were supposed to make on-the-spot assessment of the situation, suggest redress and send a report to the Centre.
West Bengal had called the move “against the spirit of federalism”, with multiple instances of exchange of words between the Centre and state over it. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee accused the IMCT of calling state officers “indiscriminately”, hampering the efforts against Covid-19.
Earlier in the day, the MHA also wrote to the state government that its “unilateral decision” of not allowing movement of goods trucks through Indo-Bangladesh border was jeopardising India’s international commitments to the neighbouring country. It has also told the state that it was violating MHA guidelines that have clearly stated that movement of goods trucks cannot be stopped.
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