Despite several Tablighi Jamaat members who attended the Nizamuddin congregation, testing Corona-positive in other states, none of those from Bengal have been officially found affected.
Is the Mamata Banerjee government going soft on these people, or does she want the world to think that she has the situation under control?
Is the Bengal government concealing and downplaying the actual number of people infected by the Covid-19 virus and the casualties due to it?
Healthcare professionals, and the principal Opposition party in the state, think so. And they cite many reasons for this.
One, is the complete opacity as far as the nearly 300-odd Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) activists who returned from the congregation at the Banglewali Masjid in Delhi’s Nizamuddin are concerned. Most of them have been quarantined at the Haj House in New Town.
But though there were reports that three of them were shifted from the quarantine facility to the Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH) at Beliaghata last week, nothing more was heard about them.
Also, while in all other states, a large percentage of the Nizamuddin returnees are testing Covid-19 positive, it is quite inconceivable that in Bengal, none of them have been found to be positive.
“How is it possible that not a single TJ activist among the hundreds who returned to Bengal from Nizamuddin has tested Covid-19 positive so far? In all other states, most of the new positive cases belong to the Nizamuddin returnees,” said a senior BJP leader.
Another reason for this grave suspicion is the appointment of a five-member expert committee that will certify all deaths due to Covid-19 virus. The committee is headed by B.R. Satpathy, a former director of health services, who is very close to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
An order issued by the state health department said that the committee will study treatment histories, laboratory investigation reports, death certificates and other documents to decide whether the death of a Covid-19-positive patient can be ruled “due to Covid-19”.
In all other states, it is the doctor who is treating a patient who certifies (in the death certificate) if a patient has died due to coronavirus infection or not. Because, say medical professionals, it is the treating doctor who knows best.
And in all other states, the simple thumb rule is to attribute the death of any Covid-19 patient undergoing treatment to the virus and not to co-morbidities. But in Bengal, it is this powerful committee which will now decide if a death can be attributed to the virus and not the doctor who treated the deceased.
In Bengal, the government goes to great lengths to pass off deaths as result of co-morbidities. This is exactly what happened in the case of the deaths of four persons in Kolkata over the weekend.
The four were a 52-year-old resident of Sheoraphuli in Hooghly (neighbouring Kolkata) who passed away at AMRI Hospital in Salt Lake on Sunday, a 35-year-old man from Maheshtala (southeast suburb of Kolkata) who died at the state-run NRS Medical College & Hospital on Saturday night, a 49-year-old woman from Amherst Street in North Kolkata who died at Peerless Hospital on Saturday night and a 56-year-old railway employee who died at the North Bengal Medical College Hospital on Sunday.
According to the state health department, the Sheoraphuli resident died of a heart attack even though he had tested Covid-19 positive. Similarly, the deaths of the three others have been attributed to ailments like diabetes even though they tested positive for Covid-19.
“It is ridiculous to pass off the deaths of these Covid-19 positive patients as due to ‘co-morbidities’ (that is, they died of other ailments). The virus complicates co-morbidities and is especially fatal for those who suffer from hypertension, diabetes, heart diseases and kidney ailments. So, it is the virus that complicates co-morbidities and causes death,” said Ruchira Srivastav, an epidemiologist who had worked at AIIMS, Delhi.
Last week, too, the state chief secretary said that four earlier deaths of Covid-19 positive patients were due to co-morbidities and the state will not classify those deaths as due to the coronavirus.
The panel had put the total coronavirus cases in Bengal at 53, but the chief secretary whittled it down to 34.
Since then, said BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha, there have been “consistent and shameful attempts” to conceal the actual number of Covid-19 positive cases and deaths due to the virus.
“Concealment won’t help and will actually boomerang on the state government,” said Sinha.
A virologist at a state-run healthcare facility said that even if a Covid-19 patient does not have other ailments (or co-morbidities), s/he may die of pneumonia or respiratory failure. So will that death be attributed to pneumonia or heart failure?” he wondered.
Another doctor with the state-run super-speciality SSKM Hospital said that the Union Government should pass directives to all states immediately asking them to register deaths of all Covid-19 positive patients as deaths due to coronavirus infection.
This doctor pointed out that if the state government attempts to conceal cases, it will be faced with a grave crisis.
“If no new cases are being detected, then there will be no justification for continuing with the current lockdown. But since the reality is different, lifting the lockdown could lead to an exponential increase in the number of new cases,” he said.
A senior BJP leader who did not want to be named since she is not authorised to speak to the media said that Bengal’s attempt to conceal the number of Covid-19 positive cases arose out of chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s intention to show that she had the pandemic under control in Bengal.
“But this is no time to score hollow brownie points in such a manner. Concealment and obfuscation will bring Bengal to disaster,” she warned.
The state government, however, refutes suggestions that it is concealing data on new Covid-19 positive cases. Chief Minister Banerjee rejected such suggestions at a press meet last week and said the state is giving out the factual position with regard to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, India’s live has been dormant as regards to Bengal. Tellingly, an exclamation mark appears next to Bengal. The tracker, while showing fresh cases in other states, says that the data for Bengal was updated 17 hours ago.
And the figure of 80 'confirmed’ cases that the tracker is showing now is the figure given out by the Union Health Ministry and not the state government. The state government last issued a bulletin on Saturday and has maintained a deafening silence since then.