Covid-19 cases spike in West Bengal, docs say testing rate too low
Only four of Bengal’s 23 districts are in the red zone -- areas where no activity is allowed -- and, according to chief secretay Rajiva Sinha, 80% of the Covid-19 cases detected in the state are in the capital Kolkata.Updated: Apr 28, 2020 06:36 IST
West Bengal’s graph of people testing positive for Covid-19 is rising sharply, with the number of cases more than doubling in the space of just seven days. The state had recorded 339 cases between March 17 and April 20; as many as 357 cases were recorded between April 20 and 27, taking the total to 696, of which 504 are active, or still under treatment.
The Bengal administration claimed the increase was on par with the national average,but senior doctors attributed the sudden rise to the low testing rate in the state during the early days of the coronavirus outbreak.
Criticism that came its way prompted the Trinamool Congress government to accelerate the testing rate on April 15, when it started testing 350 people a day for Covid-19 on average. The number of tests were stepped up on April 20, the day two interministerial central teams reached Bengal for a spot assessment of the situation.
Bengal had conducted only 5,469 tests until April 20; in the next seven days, it performed 6,574 more.
“Our testing has rapidly increased. As many as 1,150 tests were conducted in the past 24 hours,” chief secretary Rajiva Sinha said on Monday.
“Our positive confirmation rate is at par with the national rate,” Sinha said.
Senior doctor Kunal Sarkar said the state was still not conducting enough tests. “We have to keep in mind that here we have not yet found as many asymptomatic patients as in other states. The test rate is still low. Going by the state’s population and national testing average, Bengal needs to conduct 4,000 tests on a day on an average,” Sarkar said.
Doctor and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Fuad Halim agreed with Sarkar. “Number of Covid-19 patients is increasing with the increase in the number of tests. The tests increased in the first place after I filed a public interest litigation in the Calcutta high court. But the state is still testing about four times below the national average, going by per million population,” Halim said.
West Bengal’s population is estimated at 100 million.
Only four of Bengal’s 23 districts are in the red zone -- areas where no activity is allowed -- and, according to Sinha, 80% of the Covid-19 cases detected in the state are in the capital Kolkata.
The situation is improving, officials claimed. “Five out of eight containment zones in East Midnapore, 13 out of 57 containment zones in North 24 Parganas, 13 out of 56 containment zones in Howrah have not reported a single case in the past two weeks,” Sinha said.
In Kolkata, however, the situation is bleaker. Of the 227 containment zones in the city, only 18 have not reported any case in the past two weeks.
In this scenario, the police have started acting tough. On Sunday, Kolkata police prosecuted 163 people for not covering their faces and 26 for spitting in public places, besides booking 554 persons under the Disaster Management Act for violating lockdown measures. The police in the districts are using drone cameras and balloon cameras to identify lockdown violators; yet , breaches of the regulations were reported even on Monday.