Bengal: 75 times spike in daily cases after poll announcement
Daily coronavirus infections have zoomed 75 times in West Bengal since the Election Commission of India (ECI) announced assembly elections on February 26, prompting health experts to link the surge in cases to maskless political rallies that violated Covid protocol.
On Tuesday, the state registered 16,403 new cases, up from 216 on February 26. The positivity rate - the proportion of people testing positive to those tested – has also shot up from 1% to nearly 30% during the same period. This means that almost every third person tested has been found infected with the coronavirus.
The number of active cases in the state also crossed 100,000 on Tuesday. It was 3,343 on February 26. The number of deaths on Tuesday was 73, a record, pushing the toll to 11,082.
Health experts blamed the exponential rise of Covid-19 cases on the mass gatherings at election rallies.
“All safety protocols had taken a back seat at the election campaigns resulting in a faster spread of the virus in the state. The ECI should have wrapped up the poll process at the earliest. The lengthier the election process the higher would be the toll. We need all hands on deck to fight the crisis,” said Manas Gumta, general secretary of Association of Health Service Doctors in the state.
On Monday, the Madras high court observed that ECI was responsible for the second wave in the country. Last week, the Calcutta high court, too, had expressed dissatisfaction over measures taken by the poll panel to enforce Covid-19 safety norms in campaigning.
On April 16, ECI banned political campaigns at night and increased the silent period from 48 hours to 72 hours. On April 22, it banned roadshows and limited rallies to 500 people. Campaigning for the eight-phase election ended on Monday.
Kolkata reported the highest number of cases, 3708, and the state capital along with three adjoining districts of North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas and Howrah accounted for more than 50% of the new cases reported WHEN. Kolkata reported 3708 cases on Tuesday. On Tuesday 55,287 samples were tested, which was up from 20,084 tested on February 26.
“We need to ramp up testing. Cases have shot up alarmingly, but we have not been able to ramp up the testing proportionately. When cases had dropped, we did little to augment the infrastructure knowing well that the second wave would come,” said Pratip Kumar Kundu, former head of the School of Tropical Medicine.
Hospital beds in Kolkata’s state-run and private hospitals are fast dwindling. Less than 1500 beds were vacant in Kolkata’s private and state-run hospitals on Monday, according to data available with the state health department.
“The rush in Kolkata is more than the districts. While state run-hospitals are 80% occupied, across the state the occupancy rate is around 55%. We are augmenting the infrastructure not only in state run hospitals but also in private hospitals,” said a senior state health department official.
With beds running out fast, oxygen resources depleting and medicines scarce, the state has recently published guidelines for strict rationing.
“Due to the high case load, we need to decongest the hospitals and more importantly the CCU and HDU beds. For this detailed guideline have been brought on which patients could be kept in HDU and CCU beds and who could be referred to isolation centres from hospitals depending on the severity. Also guidelines have been brought out in use of oxygen and Remdesivir,” said another official of the health department.