West Bengal witnessed the highest single-day spike of 3,526 COVID-19 cases on Thursday (October 8), the day both opposition BJP and the ruling TMC took to the streets defying safety norms mandated to contain the spread of the virus.
The surge maintained the trend of spiralling cases that has been witnessed since the beginning of this month, much to the concern of the health department, which is now forced to further enhance its COVID care infrastructure.
A senior health department official said it has been decided to add 235 new ICU beds for COVID treatment, anticipating further spike in infections during the festive season beginning with Durga Puja on October 22. At present, the dedicated COVID hospitals have 1,243 ICU beds.
Besides, an order has been placed for procurement of 435 new high-flow nasal cannula oxygenation devices, the official said.
New COVID wards will be opened in government hospitals in some suburban towns such as Diamond Harbour, Baruipur, Kakdwip and others while in all districts one medical supervisor and a protocol clinical officer will be appointed soon.
Decisions in these regards were taken in a meeting Health Secretary Narayan Swaroop Nigam convened with district health officials on Wednesday to discuss the pandemic containment plan for the festive season, the official said.
The districts were alerted in the meeting about the impending challenge of possible surge in COVID-19 cases considering that during Durga puja, Diwali and Chhath puja, there will be social gatherings.
In the first eight days of this month, 26,981 new cases have been added to the state’s total tally of 2,80,504 COVID cases. The positivity rate too inched up to 7.97 per cent from 7.96 percent on September 30.
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“We are sceptical about how far social distancing and other safety norms will be followed during the festivals. All the districts have been asked to intensify vigil and create awareness about safety guidelines,” the official said.
Health officials have reasons to be sceptical as slackness in adhering to COVID-19 guidelines has been witnessed among political leaders and common people alike.
BJP leaders on Thursday took out massive processions from four locations in Howrah and Kolkata in response to its Yuva Morcha’s call to lay a siege on state secretariat Nabanna, without adhering to any social distancing norms. Several party workers took part in the protest march without even wearing a face mask.
Social distancing norms again went for a toss when on the same day, the women wing of the ruling TMC took out a procession where thousands of people participated to protest against the Hathras gangrape.
With elections barely six months away, political parties are regularly hitting the streets with a large number of their workers and supporters across the state, creating an impression that the COVID-19 has long gone.
Taking a cue from their political leaders, the general public switched to festive mode, thronging markets, shops and malls for puja shopping, sending a chill down the spine of health officials.
Principal of the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital Dr Manju Banerjee, in an urgent communication to the health department earlier this month, sought immediate posting of additional doctors in the hospital.
“Presently, 26 post graduate trainees including 12 faculty members have been tested (+ve) from Covid-19 and were either quarantined or undergoing treatment. As such, the Medical College, Kolkata, is facing an acute shortage of doctors in Covid-19 pandemic outbreak with further enhancement of 100 (hundred) beds,” Dr Banerjee wrote.
“Hence, we request you to post/detail senior residents, with specialization in MD (medicine) degree preferably the ex-students of this institution to cater effective and adequate care to patients admitted in Medical College, Kolkata.”
The Covid Care Network, an organisation of health officials, doctors and those who have recovered from coronavirus, also sent out words of cautions ahead of the celebration. The network has appealed to the people not to go for pandal hopping this Durga Puja and avoid crowding.