COVID-19: Cases, positivity rate soar in Kolkata after Christmas revelry

The positivity rate in the city rose from 3.2 per cent in early December to 5.5 per cent on December 28 

By Jayanta Basu
Published: Thursday 30 December 2021
COVID-19: Cases, positivity rate soar in Kolkata after Christmas revelry Photo: Goutam Chakraborty / Twitter

West Bengal hasn’t recorded a significant number of cases of the new omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 (causes COVID-19) but is witnessing a surge in cases since Christmas. Public health experts have attributed this growth to rampant non-compliance of COVID-19 protocol during Christmas celebration in Kolkata. 

The positivity rate in the city rose from 3.2 per cent in early December to 5.5 per cent on December 28, according to the state bulletins. 

The positivity rate of the entire state also doubled in a week — to 2.84 per cent on December 29 from 1.42 per cent on December 23.

The marked increase in daily new infections — the state recording more than 1,000 cases in a day after a gap of six months on December 29 — has prompted Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to ramp up containment measures. 

She asked officials Wednesday to review whether educational institutes need to be closed again. Banerjee also hinted at bringing containment restrictions in the city.

The surge, particularly the feared invasion of the omicron variant, is putting a strain on the state’s already stressed health infrastructure. The situation can quickly spiral out of control unless COVID-19 compliant behaviours are immediately imposed in a strict manner.  

Doctors expressed apprehension whether the current treatment regime, including antibody cocktails to high-risk patients that was given to patients with delta variant infections, would work in case of Omicron patients. 

The antibody cocktail refers to a mix of two synthetic antibodies, casirivimab and imdevimab.

Former cricketer and current president of Board of Control for Cricket in India Sourav Ganguly was also administered the antibody cocktail after testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this week. 

Kolkata leads 

As many as 368 people in Kolkata were found infected December 28, out of the 6,500 tested. The city’s high positivity rate is a concern as the parameter in often considered a benchmark for imposing restrictions. 

The city’s COVID-19 tally also rose to 540 cases on December 29 from 145 on December 20.  Kolkata’s share in the state’s total cases also rose sharply — from around a fourth in early December to half on December 29. 

Several districts in the city have been in the central government’s list of red alert zones for some time now, according to an expert with the state’s health department. The severity is primarily decided on three variables, including positivity rate and the overall growth rate of cases.

“Within Kolkata, the southern part of the city seems to be more vulnerable than the northern part as boroughs 12, 10 and 8, located in the south and south-east, seem to have recorded the most cases over a period of time,” pointed out Tapan Mukherjee, health advisor to the Kolkata Municipal Corporation.  

Neither the administration nor people seem to care, said Manas Gumta, secretary of a doctors’ association who has been treating COVID-19 patients. “Meetings are stopped in the name of disaster management norms but it’s surprising how the government can allow tens of thousands to throng Park Street and other areas without any restrictions in place.”

Gumta alleged the government, instead of discouraging people to congregate, actually seemed to have encouraged them by putting the celebratory lights everywhere and creating the “ambience”.    

Omicron raises treatment poser

Omicron has at least three times the infectivity rate than the delta variant, pointed out Sukumar Mukherjee, an eminent physician and member of state’s advisory group on COVID-19. “It is definitely going to make the situation difficult for a highly populous city like Kolkata.”

So far, omicron seems to be less severe compared to delta and requires less hospitalisations, he noted. “Even the patients found with omicron variants in the state are mostly stable.” 

Ajoy Sarkar, a COVID-19 specialist for Peerless hospital, said: 

We hardly have adequate information on omicron. Though initially we were a bit clueless; but in recent times, the treatment protocol against delta variant became quite robust with the antibody cocktail working well on high-risk patients with mild to moderate symptoms if applied early. We do not know whether similar treatment regimes will work against omicron.

There has been ongoing research to develop a new antibody cocktail for omicron but there are no candidates yet, shared Arup Haldar, a pulmonologist associated with Woodlands Hospital in Kolkata.

Patients with both doses of the vaccine have been infected with the virus and that is an additional concern, though such patients do not express severe symptoms, added another doctor.

An average of 70 per cent of the affected are fully vaccinated, according to a KMC assessment.

“From December 17-27, the number of affected patients with double doses of vaccines was 64-75 per cent of the overall cases,” said Mukherjee from KMC.

On December 27, 20 of the 21 patients tested by KMC and needed hospitalisation were fully vaccinated, added another expert. 

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