The catastrophic second Covid-19 wave has hit West Bengal's rural pockets harder than the cities, with Kolkata-based doctors and health experts suggesting that the state government ramp up rapid antigen testing at the district level.
The reasons behind the sudden spike, doctors said, are inadequate testing, lack of testing facilities and large gathering due to the recently concluded elections in the state.
In Birbhum district, Bolpur block, which had reported 15 Covid-19 cases in March, recorded 617 cases in mid-April. The block, where 90% of people live in rural areas, had reported 160 and 170 infections last October and November, respectively, when the pandemic reached its peak in the state.
The situation is grim in other districts too.
For instance in Burdwan district, Covid-19 is growing at an alarming rate, much higher than other parts of the district during the first wave. There have been several casualties from the district too.
Covid has spread to all the 35 wards of Burdwan city, where community transmission is widespread, according to a report by the district information and cultural department released on Friday.
On Friday, 722 people were infected in East Burdwan district, out of which Burdwan city recorded 209 cases. As many as 68 new cases were reported in Burdwan number one block. In the second block of Burdwan, 23 people have been infected.
On the other hand, 18 people have been affected in the Katwa municipality area, while in Kalna municipality area, 18 people have been affected. As many as 13 people contracted the virus in the Memari municipality area.
Despite such a grim scenario, people in rural Bengal have not been following Covid-approproate behaviour such as wearing masks. They are also reluctant to get themselves tested. Most of them are also treating Covid-19 as a common cold and flu, and when their health condition is aggravating, they are rushing to hospitals.
Exorbitant ambulance rates
Amid the pandemic, ambulance service providers in the state have been charging exorbitant rates for ferrying patients to hospitals.
Take for instance Mehtab Alam Ansari's case. Ansari, a resident of Konnagar, Hooghly district, is now admitted in a private hospital in Hindmotor.
When he tested positive for Covid, Ansari's oxygen levels dropped drastically. His wife, Tanushree, then called up a private ambulance service to take her husband to Kolkata. The family, however, didn't manage to get Ansari admitted to any hospital in the state capital, and when they returned to Hindmotor, the ambulance service charged them Rs 33,000.
Tanushree didn't have the amount at the time and was forced to give away her gold chain to pay for the amount.
The owner of the company, however, claimed that the ambulance fare has been increased due to the current Covid-19 situation.
CM letter to PM over oxygen plants
Worried over infection spreading to rural Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee after returning to power this month has taken various measures, including allowing private hospitals and nursing homes to ramp up their bed capacity by 40 per cent. She has also asked district healthcare officials to increase daily Covid testing to curb the spread and urged people to wear masks in public places.
Banerjee on Friday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, requesting him to be fair and quick in allotment of pressure swing adsorption (PSA) plants for the state, amid the relentless surge in Covid-19 cases.
In her letter, the Trinamool Congress supremo said that the state, which was scheduled to get 70 PSA plants, has now been intimated that four such oxygen generating units would be set up in the first phase. She also complained of lack of clarity in the intimation about the remaining plants.