COVID-19: ‘Bengal hospitals turning into epicentres of novel coronavirus’

At least 80 healthcare workers, including 38 doctors, have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in the state  

By Jayanta Basu
Published: Sunday 03 May 2020

At least 80 healthcare workers have tested positive for the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) in West Bengal as on May 2, 2020, sparking concerns that hospitals in the state are turning into ‘epicentres of viral spread’.  

The infected healthcare workers included 38 doctors. At least 500 other personnel have been put under quarantine in various hospitals across the state for suspected infection, according to a senior representative of a doctors’ association.

The ‘epicentres’ are mostly in Kolkata, claimed members of at least two major doctor associations.

Doctors, nurses and other staff from about 20 hospitals were affected by COVID-19. They are either symptomatic or asympomatic carriers of the virus.   

Representatives of eight doctor organisations in their joint memorandum to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee urged the government to consider ‘adequate safety and security of all frontline service providers’.

They stated ‘if they get affected, then not only will they become bigger source of epidemic, many health sectors may collapse in near future as well’. The CM subsequently met the members and promised to take appropriate action.

West Bengal comprised about two per cent of the national case share (795 out of 37,336), but eight per cent of deaths (105 out of 1,290), as on May 2. The state government, however, officially pegged the figure at 33, excluding the COVID-19 patients who died from comorbidities.

The ruling Trinamool Congress party alleged that the union government did not supply enough personal protection equipment (PPE) to the state, identified as the major cause of high levels of infection among healthcare professionals and frontline staff.

Numerous government and private hospitals across the state had to be shut temporarily as a result of this.  

Incidentally, two doctors died recently after being infected with the virus. Many identified the lack of implementation of the ‘standard operation protocol’ of handling and treating of both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients, an issue also voiced in the meeting with the CM.

 “At least least 80 persons, including 38 doctors, have already been affected with the virus in the state. More than 500 health professionals and other staff are working on the frontline. The number is increasing regularly and it’s getting difficult to keep a tab. Clearly, the hospitals are turning into epicentres of viral spread, if they have not already,” said Manas Gumta, a physician and general secretary of Association of Health Service Doctors.

 “The lack of adequate PPE coupled with inconsistency of handling of patients in absence of clear guidelines exacerbated the situation,” said Koushik Lahiry of West Bengal Doctors Forum.

Swapan Biswas of Service Doctors Forum pointed out that the state did not ramp up testing at the right time.

Biswas and Lahiry admitted that the provision of PPEs improved marginally after the meeting with the CM.    

“The state did what it could do with its limited capacity. The union government has so far provided hardly five per cent of PPEs while the rest has been organised by state,” claimed Santanu Sen, secretary of Indian Medical Association’s state unit and a TMC MP.

“First, limited number of PCR-based kits were provided and some of them were faulty. Then they provided rapid test kits which were later withdrawn by ICMR. The number of testing centres could be increased to 16, for instance. The list of non-cooperation is long,” added Sen.

Junior doctors were the most affected as PPE could not be made available to them, pointed out Kunal Sarkar, a cardiac surgeon and frontline advocate of doctor safety.

Sarkar also criticised the Union government for allegedly creating confusion and making contradictory statements. He claimed the Union health department and ICMR spoke in ‘two languages’.


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