West Bengal government promotion of Puja revelry behind Covid surge: Experts

A section of medical experts believe the government’s overt promotion of Puja pandals and handing out doles to clubs fuelled the rush of revellers.

Rampant flouting of Covid-19 norms by revellers outside Durga Puja pandals and shopping malls in Kolkata and its adjoining districts is mostly to blame for the latest surge in infections in West Bengal, experts have said.

A section of medical experts believe the government’s overt promotion of Puja pandals and handing out doles to clubs fuelled the rush of revellers.

The spike has prompted local administrations to reimpose curbs in areas reporting a surge in cases. According to sources, the state currently has 129 containment zones, the bulk of which are in North and South 24 Parganas.

In a letter to the state health secretary dated October 22, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said West Bengal has reported 20,936 new cases and 343 fresh deaths over the last one month, accounting for 3.4% of the new cases and 4.7 % of the fresh fatalities in the country.

In the letter, he described Kolkata as one one of the primary districts of concern. Despite the state capital seeing a surge in cases, with areas such as Dhakuria, Jadavpur, Topsia, Picnic Garden, Kasba, Tollygunge, Naktala-Patuli and Naktala-Jadavpur accounting for the bulk of them, a source in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) said there are no immediate plans to declare containment zones as it stands to affect lives and livelihoods. However, the source added that the city civic body might consider imposing micro-containment measures if cases continue to surge.

Amid concerns over the fresh surge in cases, fresh infections in the state jumped to 976 in the last 24 hours, taking the total caseload to 15,89,042. Kolkata and North -24 Parganas saw the most cases at 272 and 159. The state also saw 15 fresh fatalities, taking the overall toll to 19,096.

Kolkata and Jalpaiguri districts topped the toll at four each, with North 24-Parganas trailing at three. Active cases in the state are currently at 43,322.

“This was very much expected and is not at all surprising. The way the government promoted Durga puja, extending financial assistance to clubs, it was obvious that the pandals would attract huge crowds. People immersed in festive mood and thronged pandals, throwing caution to the winds. While most of us are vaccinated and are safe, we may have created an extremely unsafe environment for our children,” Prof. Manas Gumta, general secretary, Association of Health Service Doctors, West Bengal, told The Indian Express.

“We are sick and tired of sending alerts and warnings. We all know that the actual figure is much more than what we read in the health bulletins. Test, track and treatment, combined with Covid-appropriate behaviour and further intensification of the vaccination campaign are only ways to bring down the numbers. So far, we have failed to do so. The idea behind the lockdown was to prevent the spread of disease and help us fight the pandemic. We are living with this pandemic for two years now and the government knows what it needs to do. Lockdown was a feasible option when the virus was new to the country and we needed time to put necessary infrastructure in place to tackle surging cases,” Gumta said.

On Bijoya Dashami, which marks the end of the festival, the state recorded 451 new cases and eight deaths. Positivity rate was at 2.31 per cent. Kolkata, on the same day, recorded 127 new cases and three deaths followed by North 24 Parganas at 85 new cases and four deaths.
Senior cardiac surgeon Dr. Kunal Sarkar called out the people in power for inviting the rushes at Puja pandals.

“Unfortunately, for the powers-that-be, people’s lives are precious only as long as they are voting. The Calcutta High Court had announced similar curbs during the Pujas as last year. While the government is now holding the people accountable for the surge, I feel its messaging itself was clearly irresponsible. The high court had laid out a very clear judgment,” Sarkar said.

The surge in Covid numbers in the southern fringes of the city, especially in the Baruipur sub-division, has prompted the local administration to create 24 micro-containment zones in the area. All markets under the Sonarpur-Rajpur municipality, Baruipur municipality and Joynagar II block in Baruipur sub-division will be shut for three days starting Thursday, read a notification issued on Wednesday.

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