West Bengal likely to see spurt in COVID cases by end of polls, warn health experts

A doctors’ forum wrote to the election commission complaining that COVID protocols are blatantly violated, especially during large election gatherings

People, without masks, at a gathering to listen to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Bengal. Pic: Twitter

Health experts have warned that COVID-19 cases may rise rapidly in West Bengal, which is in the middle of state elections, by the first week of May.

It is likely that the daily case count may cross 3,000 by the time results are declared on May 2, mostly because of the two-month-long intense electioneering in the state, which is seeing a direct fight between Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and the BJP.

Bengal has reported a constant rose since February 26, the day the election schedule was declared. From 216 fresh cases on February 26, the number rose to 931 a day on March 31. The positivity rate (number of positive cases per 100 tested) has increased four times by the end of March when compared to February. About 3/4th of the cases have been reported in Kolkata and North 24 Parganas.

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“We may reach 3,000 cases per day in May if this trend continues,” Tapan Mukherjee, advisor of health in Kolkata Municipal Corporation, told Down to Earth.

The spike in cases will definitely be a direct result of blatant violation of COVID-19 protocols all through the election campaigning, say health experts, who blamed the election commission (EC) for being a “silent spectator” instead of acting tough on violators.

Surprisingly, the state was improving till the first week of March with the daily caseload dropping to 170, mainly in the backdrop of good containment policies, which were strictly adhered to before the campaigning gathered steam. “There were around five COVID-19 patients in our hospital in early March. Now, there are around 20,” Ajoy Sarkar, critical care specialist and in-charge of COVID-19, Peerless Hospital, Kolkata, told Down to Earth.

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A group of doctors, called The Joint Platform of Doctors-West Bengal, has written a letter to the Election Commission (EC) condemning people’s lack of adherence to COVID protocol, especially during large public gatherings.

West Bengal has to follow COVID-19 protocols prepared just ahead of Bihar state elections in August 2020. Some of the guidelines to be followed are:

  1. Only five persons, including candidates, allowed for door-to-door campaigning

2. Road show convoy should break after every five vehicles instead of 10.

3. Interval between two convoys should be half an hour.

4. Entry and exit points should be marked at grounds for public gatherings.

As it appears, most of these norms are regularly flouted by all political parties in West Bengal currently.

The letter written by the Joint Platform of Doctors-West Bengal read: “Have you ever seen the Union home minister Amit Shah wearing a mask while campaigning? What can we possibly do when the prime minister or home minister of the country, or state’s chief minister flouts COVID-19 safety guidelines?”

The doctors’ forum asked the election commission to act tough against those who flout COVID protocols.

Environment activist Subhas Datta wrote to Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora: “It is painfully observed that this august institution (election commission) has preferred to remain as silent spectator to this deadly situation arising out of non-compliances during the election campaign.”

Datta or the doctors’ forum is yet to get a response from the election commission.

The 8-phase West Bengal elections began on March 27 and will end on April 29. The results will be declared on May 2.

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