COVID-19 lockdown in Bengal: Experts claim containment strategy failed

Health experts claimed that the state’s failure to impose containment norms is why COVID-19 cases continue to be on the rise  

By Jayanta Basu
Published: Thursday 09 July 2020
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on July 8, 2020 announced a strict lockdown from 5 pm from July 9-16 in 25 containment zones. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The implementation of containment norms in West Bengal to arrest the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak has turned a full circle. Several health experts have claimed that the state’s failure to impose norms according to World Health Organisation (WHO) and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) guildelines led to a surge in cases. 

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on July 8, 2020 announced a strict lockdown from 5 pm from July 9-16 in some parts of the state, including the 25 containment zones in Kolkata, where the rate of infection is high.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus has so far infected 24,823 in state. At least 827 have died.

Earlier, state Home Secretary Alapan Bandopadhyay issued an order stating that all government and private offices, non-essential activities, congregations, transportation, markets would remain closed within containment zones.     

Shoddy containment strategy

“The state imposed strict restrictions in containment areas, but they were gradually relaxed later on. The size of containment has been gradually reduced from a few hundred meters to few houses and then finally to single house,” said Manash Gumta, general secretary, Association of Health Service Doctors, West Bengal.

A senior WHO official from Delhi claimed the containment strategy was finalised by a few administrative officials and the police, but it did not reflect much on health requirements.

“Therefore, it failed in Kolkata and elsewhere in the state. Unfortunately, the situation is more or less the same in several parts of the country,” he added.

Containment areas can span 500 metres and can be customised, but should not be tampered with in a way that the basic sense of containment is lost.

 “The basic idea is to ensure that the virus is confined within that area. However, in North 24 Parganas and Howrah districts, people were routinely found violating norms. It poses questions about the quality of implementation,” the official said.

He added that several terminologies have been concocted over time. The latest in the line is isolation unit, which are meant for standalone COVID-19 patients. These units may be located even outside the designated containment areas.

“Don’t these units pose risk to the people around?” an epidemiologist said.

The official release of Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) showed that as on July 1, the city had 18 containment points and 1,872 isolation units.   

Reality of containment

Down to Earth recently visited some designated containment points in the city and found that sense of containment was lacking on the ground. Those living or working adjacent to containment zones had little idea that it was one.

For example, a standalone house barely 200 meteres away from Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s residence was a containment zone, according to a notification issued by the civic body on June 29. However, the area was found to be crowded with markets operating on full-scale the same evening.

“We have no idea” was the standard answer when people were asked about the containment status of the earmarked zone.

Similarly, the area around containment zone in city's Bhawanipur area was found buzzing with activity. A building in the southern part of the city, where a flat was a designated containment point, did not seem to have any restrictions. There was no guard rail to impose containment or any police officer to ensure implementation.

The situation was found to be similar in other parts of the city as well.

“Our building was declared a containment zone. However, the local police came, put a guard rail in front of the building, took a photo and asked us to remove the guard rail and keep it in a safe place until they came back to take it,” claimed a resident from Behala area.  

Santanu Sen, a doctor MP from the Trinamool Congress, said they have been constantly evaluating ground situation and modifying strategies of intervention.

“While the containment and other strategies have been mostly working within a slum population; many people living in multi-storied and similar settings are not cooperating,” said Sen.

He claimed that hardly 13 per cent affected live in the slums.    

At 5.5 per cent, the death rate from COVID-19 in Kolkata is one of the highest in the country.

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