Rapid surge in cases, slow tests blight Bengal’s war against COVID-19

West Bengal with 74% rise in infections over past week is next to Maharashtra (77%) as worst affected state in the country

The companies were issued show-cause notices on July 17 asking why their import licenses shall not be cancelled since the diagnostic kits of the manufacturers have been removed by USFDA. Photo: iStock

West Bengal’s pandemic picture remains ominous due to a steady rise in the number of COVID-19 positive cases despite an abysmal testing rate.

On Thursday (April 30) Lav Aggarwal, Joint Secretary, Health Ministry, said the COVID-19 cases in the country are doubling in 11.3 days. In Bengal, the scenario is not that positive. Here the cases are doubling in nine days, which however, is a slight improvement from the six days recorded a fortnight ago. The spike rate in the past seven days is only below Maharashtra, the worst affected state in the country.

Maharashtra recorded 77 per cent rise in new infections in the past seven days, while in the case of Bengal, it is about 74 per cent. The national average is 45 per cent, going by the state-wise figures provided by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

According to chief secretary Rajiva Sinha, in the past 24 hours (as per the bulletin released at 6 pm on April 30), 37 new infections have been detected in West Bengal. The number of affected people in the state has increased to 572 (as on April 30), which is 2.37 per cent of the total active COVID-19 cases in the country, making West Bengal the tenth most affected state.

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So far 33 people have died in the state due to coronavirus infection.

The state government is, however, not counting the 72 others on the ground that the deaths occurred due to co-morbidity. Otherwise, in terms of number of deaths West Bengal would have been only behind Maharashtra (459), Gujarat (214) and Madhya Pradesh (137). Rajasthan is the only other state besides West Bengal which does not consider deaths of COVID-19 patients with other health complications as novel coronavirus fatalities.

Sluggish pace of tests, recovery rate

The recovery rate of patients in West Bengal is another area of concern. While the all-India recovery rate is 26.02 per cent, in Bengal, it’s just over 18 per cent.

The state also lags way behind in conducting tests even after the recent surge. As per the state government’s data only 5,469 samples were tested until April 20. In the past 10 days, the number has soared to 16,525, that is 183 persons per million. But it is still far below the national average of 483 tests per million (TPM).

In the past 24 hours (according to state bulletin released on April 30) 1,905 samples were tested. The testing got some momentum after the health department on April 28 gave approval to 15 medical colleges, six of them in Kolkata, to use TrueNat beta test, a diagnostic tool for Tuberculosis, for COVID-19 tests.

Earlier, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) too validated the use of the small battery-operated machine that scans swab samples collected from the throat and nose and gives results in an hour. The machine can run up to 32-48 samples. The TrueNat machines are generally used to test drug-resistant Tuberculosis (TB).

Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR), a convenient method of COVIC-19 test, allows 24 or 40 samples to be tested at a time but the results take two-three days to come.

To make up for fewer tests, the health department has, however, screened over 3.5 crore people for COVID-19 symptoms by conducting door-to-door surveys through Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) and other health workers.

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Health department sources said that during the survey 6,858 people were found with Influenza-like symptoms. They were isolated and kept under observation. Those with COVID-like symptoms were tested for the disease, they said.

The only source of comfort for the health department is that the spread of the virus is restricted so far to 17 out of 28 health districts, and the bulk of the cases are being reported only from Kolkata, Howrah, East Midnapore, North 24 Parganas and Hooghly.

Kolkata alone accounts for 184 cases, which makes it the COVID-19 epicentre of the state.

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