The Mamata Banerjee led West Bengal government that has already drawn fire over serious allegations of covering up the COVID-19 outbreak, and now some more murky details have emerged from the state that go on to show how the Trinamool Congress (TMC) government could be downplaying the extent of the epidemic in West Bengal.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) nodal testing facility in Kolkata- the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (NICED) has exposed how the Mamata Banerjee government is simply not taking enough samples for testing the Wuhan virus suspects in the state of West Bengal.
Dr Shanta Dutta, Director, ICMR-NICED said, “There is a big drop last week we didn’t even have 20 samples per day. Number of samples being sent is determined by the state government, so if they send more samples, we are able to test more. I think sample collection has not been as per the recommendation. So number (of) tests being done in Bengal is also less.”
Fewer samples mean fewer tests, which further translates into a number of positive cases getting buried under the carpet- this seems to have weighed in heavily on West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s decision to send fewer samples for testing.
Dr. Dutta pointed out that the flow of samples coming to the Kolkata-based facility has not been “equal from the very beginning”. He added, “Initially we were the only centre which was doing the testing and at that time we would receive 90-100 samples in a day. Now there are other centres, so the number of samples being sent to NICED is less.”
Mamata Banerjee has been alleging shortage of testing kits, but the NICED Director begs to differ, and says, “There is no shortage. We are the depot or warehouse for the kits in eastern India. So far, we have received 42,500 kits in three consignments from ICMR. Apart from state-run medical college hospitals in Bengal, we have dispatched some to Odisha and Port Blair as well. At present we have 27,000 kits in our stock.”
He also revealed that 7,500 testing kits have been allocated to West Bengal, but as of April 12 the state conducted only 2,523 tests- an abysmally low figure for a state as densely populated as West Bengal.
Dr. Dutta also feels that West Bengal should scale up testing, but then lack of testing is not the only issue associated with West Bengal. What is even more troublesome is rather serious allegations of COVID-19 death suppressions by the Mamata Banerjee government.
BJP Lok Sabha MP Dr. Subhas Sarkar who represents the Bankura constituency in West Bengal has spoken of hideous cremations of two bodies in his own constituency even when their throat swab results were pending.
He said, “Yesterday, there were two dead bodies in Bankura Sammilani Medical College and Hospital. And the cremation of two dead bodies was completed in the late night. Their throat swab reports were pending. Before getting the throat swab reports, they destroyed the evidence. This is a tremendous offensive work. The relatives of the people are very anxious and afraid.
He added, “these incidents put a question mark on what is the performance and dignity of the audit committee of West Bengal. Also, there should be a standard protocol for the functioning of treating physicians and also writing death certificate. There is a protocol that is obeyed all over the world. The administration should clarify what was the process of burning and the throat swab reports should be clarified to the relatives of the people.”
This is not the first time that cases of seemingly suspicious burials/ cremations have been reported from West Bengal. Only recently, there was a clash between civilians and police near the AJC Bose Botanic Garden, Shibpur in West Bengal after the locals got agitated over the burial of a COVID-19 suspect.
The death certificate of the deceased being taken to the Abdul Road burial ground mentioned Cardiac arrest as the cause of death. But locals could clearly see that people taking him for burial were wearing Personal Protection Equipment (PPE).
And then the formation of a five-member Committee headed by former Health Services Director B.R. Satpathy, who is considered close to the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, that decides whether a death has been caused by the Wuhan virus, has been a matter of concern.
Around the country, the treating doctor declares if a person died of COVID-19 and anyone who had tested positive for Chinese virus before his death is considered to be a Coronavirus death, but not in West Bengal.
Here, a Committee of doctors decides if a person died of Coronavirus or “co-morbidities” even if the person had contracted the novel infection before his death. It is well known that Coronavirus causes accelerated death by aggravating fatal health conditions and diseases. To decide whether a person has died out of COVID-19 or “co-morbidities” is as absurd as disputing that an HIV AIDS-infected person died because of the existing infirmities and not HIV AIDS.
All such issues have raised concerns about the Mamata Banerjee administration actually hiding the number of cases in order to downplay its shoddy handling of the Pandemic, given that the West Bengal legislative polls are also due next year and the West Bengal Chief Minister wouldn’t want her already precarious position in the state to get further exposed.
What the coverup– murky cremations/ burials, the five-member Expert Committee, fewer samples and fewer tests, has done is make a ticking time bomb out of West Bengal that can explode any time and create a new crisis within the state and the country at a larger level as well.