Not there yet

Kolkata could be flattening the curve, but problems remain

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THINGS ARE NOT as bad as you might think,” asserted Debraj Jash, principal pulmonologist at Kolkata's Apollo Gleneagles Hospital. “With more tests in the past ten days, the [growth rate] of infections has become static in Kolkata. We are optimistic seeing the situation. If we tackle the impending unlocking carefully, we might be able to win the race as the Covid-19 curve in Kolkata has been plateauing a bit.”

Jash even claimed that the city had reached its Covid-19 peak. While West Bengal has been reporting about 3,500 cases a day, Kolkata has seen around 550. While daily testing in the state a few months ago was 5,000, it is now around 45,000.

“[However,] many battles have to be fought in the future,” he said, "especially when the government unlocks the whole system. So, we need to keep an eye on emerging issues.”

He said that the treatment protocol for Covid-19 had advanced a lot since March. “Initially, we did not use steroids,” he said. “Now we know how to use them, what medicine to use and how long such steroids should be used. That has been reflected in the change of scenario.”

Hospitals are also trying to admit fewer people. Many are treated in the outpatient department, and others are urged to stay at home. “The patient needs to take certain medicines at home,” said Jash. “If the patient's oxygen level is going down or if there is shortness of breath, he would have to report to the hospital. Otherwise, we are treating them at home.”

Said Indranil Khan, a cancer specialist: “I have many patients who, despite their comorbidities, won the fight against Covid-19 because they got tested early and did not panic. All of my patients, who are mostly immunocompromised, have won the battle thanks to early detection.”

State Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha said that most of those who have died of Covid-19 had reported to hospital late. “So, the administration's biggest challenge is to bring them treatment without wasting any time,” he said.

One of the reasons for late reporting in Kolkata is the social stigma associated with Covid-19.

Another worry is the expensive fees in private hospitals. Many patients have complained to the state health commission about private hospitals denying them treatment unless they paid upfront. “They would ask if you have money for down payment,” said Sushil Roy, a resident of north Kolkata. “Once you say you have insurance, they would say no bed is available. My bill for 15 days was close to 010 lakh.” Roy, a retired PSU officer, had to use his personal contacts to get admission in the hospital. “But think of people who do not have the contacts of high-profile people,” he said.

Khan, however, noted that even if the medicines were cheap, the hospitals had to do a lot of tests and had other patient-related expenses. He said the hospitals charging for these was acceptable as long as they were not eyeing profits. “I suggest the government have a designated officer to look into the billing of each private hospital,” he said.

West Bengal now has to consult the Union government before imposing lockdowns outside containment zones. Medical experts said the situation might be troublesome if unlocking is not handled properly. “Many infected persons are staying at home,” said Jash. “A large number of them are asymptomatic. But once everything is open, they would have to come out for work. This would cause a second wave.”