Thanks to its abysmally clueless administrative leadership, West Bengal seems to be losing the big battle to save common people from the ravages of the raging Corona virus pandemic. Even as thousands of mostly poor people go through an endless torment , the stark truth is that in the days ahead, they can expect little official help of any kind.
As of Saturday(June13,2020), the grimness of their ordeal was reflected in official statistics for the first time : local media reports confirmed that altogether 10698 people were reported corona virus(covid 19) positive . But the number of beds officially available in Government- run hospitals and facilities was well below that —only 8785! Given the relatively faster group infection phase now under way, this deadly gap can only increase in the days ahead. On average, around 430/440 fresh covid + cases are being reported daily. Unofficial reports say that many more cases go undetected, largely because there is simply no infrastructure to carry out thousands of tests daily !
No wonder there have been scores of stories in the print/electronic media about helpless people running from place to place with ailing patients, desperately seeking admission and urgent medical help—mostly in vain. There is no space for the living in hospitals, even at private clinics. There is no space for the dead in the morgues either, which has led the authorities resort to mass burials/cremation, usually late at night under heavy police protection.
Reports about of people running around fruitlessly for two/three days for medical help, until tired and frustrated , they gave up struggling. They watched their relatives die at home . The position in greater Kolkata is not much better either.
Most medical practitioners including former heads of Government-run hospitals and serving doctors no longer conceal their alarm . It had been predicted by experts that the spread of group infections on a mass scale was around the corner . The peak (of detections ) would be reached during the dreaded June to Aug 2020 period. As with most bad news, these fears have proved ominously true. Kolkata-based Nabanna (Secretariat) officials cannot claim that they were not warned in advance, at least six to eights weeks before today, of the precipice lying ahead.
Question : What specific steps they had discussed and adopted ?
If their statements on the electronic media/social media tweets are any indication, the answer has to be— not much ! Mostly, their ire and sarcasm (of which there is always aplenty!) was directed at the central government, especially targeting Prime Minister Mr Modi and Home Minister Mr Shah ! Not that the centre itself covered itself with glory in facing the Corona virus challenge. Still, the performance of states like the Left-ruled Kerala stood out in a shining contrast in the all pervasive gloom.
Even after the long 90-day lockdown, Bengal administrators could not find a way to expedite the completion of tests on Covid- suspected cases. By Saturday, the number of pending reports reached a staggering 60,000 ! Such a long day could lead to a number of disastrous consequences. The people affected and their relatives were simply relegated to a limbo, without definite knowledge of whether they were sick, well —- or had suffered a relapse !
Instead of approaching help from other states, the centre or the army medical corps, Bengal’s response was expectedly negative and evasive. Without benefit of formal announcement, people were told in different hospitals and elsewhere that for the next 72 hours, there would be no testing at all —-this at a time when medical authorities the world over have called for more and more tests, to weed out the disease! The reason for the stoppage : Government doctors would complete writing the pending final reports of their patients.
This is tantamount to telling fresh suspected cases in urgent need of medical attention to go home and hope for the best. Incidentally , such a course of action has actually been recommended for Bengal by none other than the state Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Some days ago she called upon the people to get themselves treated at home itself, going on a self quarantine. “The Government cannot be expected to take care of lakhs of people,” she had said. This was followed up more recently by a more specific advice as the lockdown was partially eased .”Treat the Corona virus as your pillow, make it a part of your lives,” she said. As people wondered about the intended import of her not –always- intelligible slogans, her supporters explained that their leader had a way of ‘speaking figuratively on important occasions !’
Politicians will have their ways on major occasions and enjoy their little quips , no doubt. But at present, few will argue that the suffering of people during the pandemic is too acute for any untimely badinage in Bengal .
(Ashis Biswas is a veteran Calcutta based journalist and News Editor at Easternlink)