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Bengal : More Darkness In Sight


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)

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