Coronavirus: Is Kolkata sitting on a ticking pandemic timebomb?

Aparupa Mazumder & Sneha Das
Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Sunetra Gupta, an epidemiologist and professor at Oxford University, is widely known for her strong arguments against lockdowns being the best way to contain the pandemic.

Sunetra Gupta, an epidemiologist and professor at Oxford University, is widely known for her strong arguments against lockdowns being the best way to contain the pandemic. She suggests that humankind will eventually learn to live with the coronavirus just like it does with influenza. Even though many other professionals have supported her claims in questioning the effectiveness of lockdowns, the government has not relied on possibilities.

Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that 213 countries have been affected by the virus. Around 13.5 million people have been infected, out of which over 5.8 lakhs have succumbed to the disease. Most of the world underwent complete lockdowns to contain the spread of the deadly virus.

However, the day-to-day situations about the effectiveness of lockdowns, narrated by residents in Kolkata give a description that counters these norms altogether.

Ever since the first lockdown held in March, the state of West Bengal, fueled by political mudslinging, opposed the central government’s regulations to a large extent. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who led the fight against COVID-19 from the forefront, has been appreciated as well as criticised at the same time. At one end, she worked tirelessly to raise awareness; however, the lack of implementation and poor administration has drawn flak. Poor lockdown surveillance led to a disruption of regulations which was once supervised by the CM on a first-hand basis.

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Social-distancing has become a myth as most of the markets fail to keep a check on it. Sonali Mazumder, a homemaker, living in Tollygunge area of South Kolkata, told Sakal Times that lack of regulation has caused much turbulence in her locality which also has one of the biggest fish and vegetable markets in the area.

“Shopkeepers don’t shut their stores past the allotted time, people from other localities have continued shopping in the Azadgarh market, no sanitisation drive has been conducted, social-distancing is just a myth here,” she said.

Government’s reluctance in providing enough public transport has created a larger pressure on office goers post lockdown. Private owners of buses and other commodities have refused to start operating because of fare related misunderstandings. This has further disrupted the social distancing norms because a lot of passengers are travelling in the available limited options. Expecting everyone to avail personal services like Ola and Uber digs deep holes in the pockets.

Nandini Dasgupta, an employee of Wipro, said, “There are many auto-drivers who are disobeying government regulations by carrying four people at a time, just for the sake of personal advantages and there is no one to stop them from doing so.”

Shamik Guha is an engineer who usually commutes to his office by bus. He’s baffled at the way commuters fight to board the bus.

“There is no scope of social distancing while getting on a bus; people are almost choking one another just so they get a little space to stand,” said Guha before adding that the situation has led him to use personal services even though it’s tearing his pockets.

Lack of governance during the lockdowns is not the only problem in the state. Earlier, the West Bengal government was heavily criticised for suppressing information related to COVID-19, including positive cases and the number of deaths. Many from the Oppositions have slammed the state government for not revealing the exact data related to coronavirus cases and not updating the health bulletin regularly.

As the number of cases continues to surge in the state, most of the hospitals are running out of bed which has emerged as a major crisis during these trying times. The rapidly spreading virus has gripped high-rising buildings, residential complexes and slums in West Bengal. Citizens are still living in darkness due to the glitch in the reportage of many positive cases from different parts of the city. The government has been slammed for fudging the actual number of positive cases.

A recent incident of negligence revealed that three medical centres refused to admit an 18-year-old boy who tested positive for the virus before he succumbed to the infection on July 12 in Kolkata Medical College and Hospital. Even the government hospital was hesitant to start treatment until the patient’s mother threatened the authorities of killing herself. The boy reportedly suffered from diabetes. His parents who have asked to remain unnamed have blamed the negligence of the medical centres for their loss.

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A similar case of inattentiveness was brought into light when a resident of Anupama Housing Complex in VIP Road, Kaikhali, spoke to Sakal Times. Leela (name changed as the woman wants to remain unnamed) spoke about a dreading COVID-19 situation in their residential complex where a 71-year-old man who lived with his wife, lost his life to the virus and neither Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) nor the health departments officials came to take any preventive measures inside the premises in order to maintain safety of the other residents.

The society has not been sealed yet. “The man was experiencing some health issues since a few days; I believe he was undergoing some treatment which we were not aware of. On Thursday night, his health deteriorated and some society members helped him to get admitted to EEDF (Sri Aurobindo Seva Kendra) where he tested positive for COVID-19 and on Saturday he was declared dead,” said Leela.

“Soon after his death, we requested the local administration to get his wife tested but they did not pay heed to our concern and constantly avoided us. No one from the health department contacted us. I spoke to the counsellor but he refused to help too. As a result, the society residents had to assist her to get tested. Unfortunately, she tested positive too. For next few days, we tried to contact the Councilor but he didn’t respond. As we have become helpless ourselves, we are inevitably failing to help her further,” she added.

The patient, who is already grieving her husband’s demise, is approaching 70 – falling under the elderly age-group that is witnessing the highest number of fatalities.

The infected lady has been staying at home despite testing COVID-19 positive and sometimes has to venture outside to buy essentials which is creating panic among the other residents. The Councilor could be later contacted and he informed that the infected lady is asymptomatic and therefore she cannot get admitted to any hospital.

“The Councilor was ready to get her admitted, we had made all the arrangements but I don’t know what led him to change his mind. Some local people said that WHO has suggested asymptomatic patients to continue with self-healing, but it doesn’t work that way. Though she has no symptoms but she has been tested positive and the other residents are at risk now,” Leela stated.

“My father is 91 and we are living in fear. The residents of Anupama are suffering because of this negligence, no one is willing to enter the society, not even our maids or waste pickers. We are clueless and don’t know how to resolve this problem. We cannot go to the Chief Minister to speak about our issue and no one is willing to help us,” a distraught Leela expressed her concerns.

Stories like these are surfacing from many localities in the state and most are going unheard. The pandemic is being greeted with sheer negligence from the stakeholders and it has only accelerated the number of positive cases in the country that’s creating new records of cases every passing day.

Edited by Suvajit Mustafi

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