Proving the apprehensions of the medical fraternity quite right, West Bengal has recorded a spike in the number of Covid-19 cases, though not in an alarming rate yet, since a week after the Durga puja festival that was celebrated for over a week, mostly in the second week of October.
An analysis of the state health department’s daily bulletins on Covid-19 shows that the state recorded 3,468 new cases during the five days between October 2 and October 6, before the Puja festivities started. A week after the festival ended, the state has recorded 4,550 new cases during the five days between October 23 and 27.
Sample this: the state registered 708 new cases on October 1 and 786 new cases on October 6. A week after the puja, 846 cases were recorded on October 22 and 976 on October 27.
As a result, while the number of active cases remained below 7,600 throughout the first three weeks of October, it went up to 7,973 on October 27.
Kolkata and its neighbouring districts of North 24-Parganas, South 24-Parganas, Howrah and Hooghly account for two-thirds of the total cases in the last week, for example 654 of 974 cases on October 23 and 662 of 976 cases on October 27.
To allow people to visit the Durga puja pandals, the state government had lifted the night curfew, which applies from 11 pm to 5 am, for 10 days between October 11 and 20. During those 10 days, massive crowds were seen in front of several major community pujas, in Calcutta and in the districts.
“We feared this and the medical fraternity had rung the alarm bell well in advance, urging people repeatedly to avoid crowding. But no one paid any heed. There was overcrowding on the streets and in front of pandals. Forget maintaining, physical distancing, they often jostled for space. Now, we need to be extra cautious in the coming week and even people with mild symptoms should need to be tested,” said Arindam Biswas, an internal medicine specialist at the Rabindranath Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences in Calcutta.
He said that since a new subvariant (Ay-4.2) of the Delta strain of coronavirus has been found in Karnataka, the state needs to be all the more careful, treating this as an indication of the possible arrival of the third wave of the pandemic.
This development happened at a time when the state administration is busy preparing for the reopening of schools and colleges, which have remained closed since the outbreak of the pandemic in March last year. Three days ago, chief minister Mamata Banerjee asked the top administration to prepare for the reopening of educational institutions by the third and fourth week of November.
On Wednesday, citing the rising graph of Covid-19 cases, Bengal Congress president and Lok Sabha MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury urged the chief minister in an open message to delay the reopening of educational institutes.
On Monday, while chairming an administration meeting during her tour of northern Bengal, the state’s chief secretary H K Dwivedi had informed the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee that of those who have been infected by the virus in recent times, 20% have taken both doses of the vaccine.
Hearing this, Banerjee asked Dwivedi to write to the Centre inquiring if this trend was being studied. She also ordered the state health department to conduct a survey on the new Covid-19 patients who have been doubly vaccinated to find out if they were administered Covishield of Covaxin.
“We are trying to increase the number of daily Covid-19 tests in the coming week,” said a state health department official who did not want to be named.
Between October 1 and 10, the state was conducting 36,000 tests daily on an average. It nosedived to a daily average of 22,750 tests during October 11-18. After picking up pace October 19 onwards, the state has been conducting 43,000 tests per day on an average over the past five days.