Dangers Of Opacity Amid A Pandemic: Why Bengal Needs To Come Clean On Fresh Covid-19 Cases And Casualties

Dangers Of Opacity Amid A Pandemic: Why Bengal Needs To Come Clean On Fresh Covid-19 Cases And CasualtiesWest Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Snapshot
  • Health experts say it is very important to ensure transparency about fresh Covid-19 positive cases and casualties. It is also important to make public the details of such cases and strictly enforce the lockdown.

    Not doing so would be catastrophic for Bengal.

Many, including physicians, public health experts and opposition politicians, have accused the Bengal government of concealing and suppressing the actual number of Covid-19 positive patients in the state and the number of casualties.

The only rationale behind this could be Bengal’s desire to proclaim that it has the pandemic under control, and has fared better than most other states in fighting the virus. But that would be an extremely short-sighted justification for this opacity and is in itself fraught with grave dangers.

Ever since news of Tablighi Jamaat activists, who attended a congregation at Delhi’s Nizamuddin and spread out to various parts of the country broke out in end-March, the Bengal government went strangely and completely silent on the numbers and details of Covid-19 positive cases.

In the first few days since the outbreak of the pandemic, the state government revealed some details, as per protocol, of the positive patients like their places of residence and their travel and contact histories.

But since the beginning of this month, only the number of fresh cases, the number of casualties and the number of positive patients who recovered have been shared.

Epidemiologists and public health experts have raised doubts (read this) over the figures released by the state government. That’s because Bengal remained silent on the swab test results of the 300-odd Tablighi Jamaat activists, who came to Bengal after the congregation at Nizamuddin.

Experts have said that it is totally inconceivable that when the number of coronavirus-afflicted among the Nizamuddin-returnees is so high in other states, none of them have tested positive in Bengal.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee lost her cool when a reporter asked her about the Nizamuddin returnees and termed the question a “communal” one.

BJP state president Dilip Ghosh attributed the opacity over the Chief Minister’s misplaced and short-sighted desire to appease Muslims. Experts have made a strong case for at least revealing the places of residence and the travel and contact histories of the Nizamuddin-returnees.

“This is of utmost importance so that all people they had come in contact with could go into isolation or quarantine and report to healthcare centres if they display symptoms,” said an epidemiologist who works for a state-run hospital in Kolkata.

But leave aside giving out any of these details, the Bengal government has not even revealed if any of these Tablighi Jamaat activists have tested Covid-19 positive.

The desire to impose a news blackout on the Tablighi Jamaat returnees by the Bengal government has, since the beginning of this month, also meant a similar blackout on all other Covid19 positive cases.

Apart from the suspicion raised by many that the state government could be suppressing the actual number of positive cases, the authorities are also not giving out details of the fresh cases since the beginning of this month.

That has not only triggered occasional rumours about people of certain areas testing positive, thus resulting in panic, it has also led to a general complacency among people which, warn public health experts, could prove disastrous for the state.

“Suppressing the actual number of positive cases to portray a rosy ‘all-is-well’ picture and not giving out details like place of residence and travel and contact histories of fresh positive cases endangers many more lives,” said the virologist at the government hospital.

What has added to the general sense of complacency that now prevails in Bengal are comments made by doctors on TV talk shows and news channels based on the figures given out by the state government. Many of them have been saying that the pandemic is now under control in Bengal and the state government has got a firm grip on the situation.

“This has bred complacency among the masses, who are now crowding markets and not maintaining social distancing norms. People are loitering around their neighbourhoods and going out citing the flimsiest of excuses in the mistaken belief that the pandemic is under control in Bengal and nothing will happen,” observed a virologist.

Coupled with this is the lax enforcement of lockdown restrictions in Bengal because of the Chief Minister’s stern instructions to the police to be soft and not indulge in any excess. As a result, police in Bengal have not enforced the lockdown strictly unlike other states.

people crowding the streets in violation of lockdown and social distancing norms in Kolkata. 
people crowding the streets in violation of lockdown and social distancing norms in Kolkata. 

While this has earned Bengal three admonishments from the Union Government in quick succession, it has also emboldened people to flout the lockdown and violate social distancing norms.

Epidemiologists and physicians warn that the result of this could well translate into a sudden spurt in positive cases and the situation spinning out of control very rapidly.

Thus, they say, it is very important to ensure transparency as far as fresh positive cases and casualties are concerned, make public the details of such cases and strictly enforce the lockdown. Not doing so would be catastrophic for Bengal.

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