For 1st time, Bengal sees dip in COVID-19 cases despite more tests

The state's death rate remains unchanged at around 40 fatalities on average per day

kolkata lockdown Policemen in Kolkata implementing the lockdown | Salil Bera

Is the COVID-19 curve in West Bengal getting flattened for the first time? It could be, as the results for the last three days are showing.

After days of criticism, the West Bengal government has responded to the need and call of the frontline warriors combatting COVID-19 in the state. The actions have significantly reduced the number of fresh infections for the last three days, thanks to effective lockdown every day and complete lockdown in two days of the week.

However, the trend only shows that a good effective policy could push the curve downward and the government should not get complacent. The death rate is, however, remaining unchanged (around 40 fatalities on average per day) and the tests per million is a cause for worry. West Bengal is largely lagging behind in number of tests per million than the states like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Kerala and Haryana, which conduct around 20,000 tests per million per day against around 9,000 for Bengal.

The silver lining in the cloud is the direction the curve is showing for the last three days. And if that could be retained with increasing number of tests, Bengal can script a success story, felt the officials of the health department.

On July 25, the total number of fresh infections was 2,404 cases during the whole day when the number of tests conducted were 15,628. The very next day, the number of fresh infections has gone down to 2,341 despite the number of tests jumping to 16,045. On July 27, the number of fresh infections fell drastically to 2,112, despite the number of tests going up by 1,000 to 17,050. The deaths remained by and large the same, but doctors on the field found the result satisfactory.

“It is the result of serious lockdown imposed in Kolkata and other affected zones. If the trend continues and tests go up further, we will be extremely happy,” said an officer of the state health department.

Kolkata and North 24 Parganas and Howrah, the two COVID-19 hubs, have been locked down virtually on every day. The shops in the containment zones remain open till 11am in the morning and two days in the week there is a complete shutdown across the state. At this stage, the government has decided to increase the number of tests every day. The target is to achieve 30,000 tests daily in the next fortnight.

During a videoconference on July 27 with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee outlined the plan for creating safe houses in West Bengal for COVID-19 patients as the hospitals and quarantine centres are unable to contain the situation. Safe houses would be having a home atmosphere to keep the coronavirus patients.

“It is mainly because the people don’t want to come to the quarantine centre leaving home. So, they hide their infection. Also, we are encouraging home quarantine and keeping an eye on their movement through local police,” Banerjee reportedly told the prime minister.

The challenge before the state government would be whether they can retain the same effective lockdown long enough to break the chain of COVID-19 transmission. Also, the death rates are very high in West Bengal, leading to confusion among many people about the kind of treatment protocol. It is to be seen how the Bengal government maintains the downward curve in the days to come.