Ritika Gupta, Swati Solanki, Sakshi Sharda, Ishika Chaudhary, Arjun Kumar
The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has deeply affected Indian states and Union Territories and West Bengal has been no exception. Due to issues like lack of infrastructure and human resources, both rural and urban people were caged in the web of grief and misery wherein even to see one’s loved one last time who succumbed to Coronavirus became an act of privilege.
Focusing on the Rural Realities around the country during the pandemic, the Centre for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS) and IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi organized a Panel Discussion on “Rural Realities | West Bengal Practitioners’ Experiences in Tackling the Second Wave in Indian Villages” on May 25, 2021.
This article is an excerpt of the presentation given by Manoswini Sarkar and the IMPRI team which provided an overview of the COVID-19 situation in India with special reference to West Bengal to set the context for the broader discussion on the topic by the esteemed panelists.
About West Bengal
West Bengal is the fourth-most populous state and the most densely populated state, second only to Bihar. Its total population is estimated to be around 10 crore people (2011?). It is also the fourteenth-largest state by area in India. It is geographically located in the eastern part of the country, bordered by the states of Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa, Sikkim, Assam, and the countries of Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh. It also contains high peaks of the Himalayas in the northern peaks and the Bay of Bengal in the south.
It has 23 districts – north 24, south 24, Bardhaman, Murshidabad, Purba Medinipur, Paschim Medinipur, Hooghly, Nadia, Howrah, Kolkata, Jalpaiguri, Malda, Bankura, Birbhum, Uttar Dinajpur, Dakshin Dinajpur, Purulia, Coochbehar, Paschim Bardhaman, Purba Bardhaman, Jhargram, Alipurduar, Kalimpong, and Darjeeling and some of the major cities include Kolkata, Asansol, Siliguri, Durgapur, Bardhaman, Darjeeling among others.
In contemporary times, with regard to socio-economic indicators, Bengal performs above the national average on social indices in terms of sex ratio, literacy rate, infant mortality rate, and overall human development index. However, SDG rank (14) and per-capita income low (20th position) are quite low.
COVID-19 Second Wave
With respect to the covid-19 pandemic, West Bengal has been one of the worst-hit cases and high fatality rates. There have been around 10 lakh positive cases and presently have around 1.5 lakh active cases as of May 21st, 2021. The numbers in the second wave have especially been jarring.
Experts say prolonged state elections campaign since March helped COVID cases jump especially in rural Bengal. There has been almost a 40 fold increase with most medical professionals blaming the mass gatherings at election rallies for the huge surge in the disease. The two worst-hit districts have been Kolkata and North 24 Parganas. The West Bengal administration has been lax in handing the second wave with announcing no restrictions or curfew and has only recently announced a lockdown
The state of West Bengal has reported 12,84,973 cases as of May 25, 2021. According to the health department, cumulatively,1,86,41,290 people have been vaccinated in the state. Out of which 41,30,583 have received both doses of vaccine. The daily positive confirmation rate, which was nearly 33 percent at the peak of the second wave, has plummeted to 3.45. A decreasing positive confirmation rate is indicative of reducing levels of Covid spread.
Counting the Dead
According to a health bulletin issued by the state government, 157 persons succumbed to the virus. Numbers continue to be on the higher side in North 24 Parganas, where 46 deaths were reported; followed by the state capital with 33 deaths.
In the month of May 2021, North 24 Parganas recorded the highest number of cases in the state at 1,11,981, followed by 96,126 in Kolkata. These two were followed by South 24 Parganas’ 33,639, Howrah’s 33,589 cases, and 30,410 in Hooghly. These districts in the epicenter were closely followed by Nadia (28,088 cases in a month); East Midnapore (22,051), West Burdwan (21,732), West Midnapore (20,015).
The state hasn’t hit its peak yet but is already running out of oxygen beds and consumption of medical oxygen has gone up from 470 MT to 550 MT. The state government plans to set up 55 oxygen plants at state-run hospitals. As of 29th April, 1.02 crores vaccines have been administered. However, since 1st May, most private facilities have closed inoculation drives due to the paucity of vaccines.
Though Kolkata and its neighboring districts have been the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic in Bengal since it began, more districts outside this hotbed of infection logged a consistent rise in cases during the second wave and emerged as areas of concern for the state health department along with North 24 Parganas, where the infection count has been far higher than the capital this time around.
Though the vaccination drive has focused mostly on Kolkata and its neighboring districts, the government is keen on quickly stepping up inoculation in the seven to eight new areas of concern.
To mitigate the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, Collaboration with relevant stakeholders is needed. Information has to be disseminated in a simple and lucid language for easier accessibility. Post COVID-19 care centers also need to be established to address the needs of post-virus complications.
The state government of West Bengal has set up a high-level committee to effectively minimize the impact of second-wave and prepare for a third wave in moving towards healthy and prosperous West Bengal.