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Covid-19 Cases Spike, Violence on Frontline Workers: Bengal Doctors Want You to Stay Home This Durga Puja

Covid-19 Cases Spike, Violence on Frontline Workers: Bengal Doctors Want You to Stay Home This Durga Puja

Joint Platform of Doctors West Bengal, an association representing multiple platforms for medical workers in the state, has started a petition on Change.org urging Banerjee to impose stricter restrictions during the festive season.

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Jashodhara Mukherjee

With Durga Puja around the corner, the situation in West Bengal remains tense as health experts have warned that the festive season could result in a "tsunami of coronavirus infections". Doctors in Kolkata, as a matter of fact, have written an open letter to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to restrict movement during the five days of Durga Puja in order to prevent a colossal spike in infections.

Joint Platform of Doctors West Bengal, an association representing multiple platforms for medical workers in the state, has started a petition on Change.org urging Banerjee to impose stricter restrictions during the festive season. The petition titled "Restrict Durga Puja Celebrations, Prevent Rise in COVID 19 Cases" also urges residents of Kolkata to exercise maximum caution during the Pujas next week in order to avoid chances of coronavirus transmission; at the time of publishing this, the petition has received nearly 14,000 signatures.

The petition, filed in Bengali, cites Onam in Kerala as an example. As per reports, exactly two weeks after Onam was celebrated, the state saw a huge spike in infections with coronavirus incidence touching new highs. More deaths owing to Covid-19 were also reported in the aftermath of the celebrations.

"In India, Kerala has best handled the coronavirus pandemic out of all the states. Yet, after Onam celebrations, infections in the state spiked by 750%. In West Bengal, the number of cases had gone down significantly in the last few months. Yet after Vishwakarma Puja and Mahalaya (which marks the onset of Durga Puja each year) in September, cases have started rising once again," said Dr. Punyabrata Gun, a general physician and the convenor of the West Bengal Doctors' Forum.

Dr. Gun added that Kerala has a better health infrastructure than West Bengal and outbreaks of coronavirus during the festive season may jeopardize the healthcare system in the state which had only begun to normalise. West Bengal has reported over 3 lakh coronavirus infections since the start of the pandemic and currently, there are 30,000 active cases in the state.

Several medical professionals, who were working without a break since the pandemic surfaced, were hoping that they would be able to take some time off during Durga Puja. However, many are now worried that they will have to continue working through the festive season.

The West Bengal government has released a list of detailed guidelines for all Durga Puja committees in the state and has asked the public to be cautious and maintain social distancing if they are stepping out during the pujas. Yet, Dr. Gun believes that the guidelines are half-baked for they lack effective policies for implementation.

"Yes, the government has announced guidelines and restrictions. But there is no monitoring committee to actually ensure that they are being implemented. Who will check if the committees are actually following the guidelines or penalise them when rules are violated?" Dr Gun asked.

Since the number of coronavirus infections in the state had come down recently, the burden on the healthcare system too had reduced. Beds were more easily available for both Covid and non-Covid patients. Doctors were not overworked and swamped with Covid patients. However, this relief is only momentary and short-lived.

"People need to understand that when the infections rise once again, no beds will be available. The healthcare system might collapse. How will we treat them?" said Dr. Gun.

The petition filed by the West Bengal doctors also jots down what, according to them, would be appropriate measures for the government to take. For one, all puja mandaps need to avoid overcrowding. Facilities for hand-washing and sanitising must also be provided. Masks must be made mandatory while pandal-hopping. Dr Gun said that each committee has received Rs 50,000 from the state government and a portion of that money should be used to make provisions for masks, without which people should not be allowed to enter.

"Every year, Kolkata has the 'Sharod Shamman' event where the committee with the best arrangements is awarded. This year, the award should be reserved for the Puja committee that complies the most with Covid guidelines," Dr Gun recommended.

A few weeks ago, the Covid Care Network announced a similar measure. According to reportsSharod Shamman this year will be awarded to the most Covid-compliant puja pandals.

A cascading effect of the overburdened healthcare system will be violence against doctors and frontline workers. According to a study, the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated violence against medical professionals.  Stigmatisation, threats and harassment have been on the rise since the initial phases the pandemic. Medical professionals have found themselves on the receiving end of hatred and anger every time a patient has been turned away due to unavailability of beds or a flawed healthcare system.

"When patients are unable to get treatment for Covid or beds become unavailable due to a spike in infections, they will become violent. Doctors will be physically at risk after the festive season," Dr Gun warned. He has three words of advice for West Bengal residents ahead of the festive season - just stay home.


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