COVID-19 Update: West Bengal

High death count in West Bengal

Print edition : June 18, 2021

Army personnel carrying out rescue operations in the wake of the very severe cyclonic storm Yaas in East Midnapore district on May 26. The cyclone has inflicted an added burden of misery and forced affected people to shelter in close proximity, increasing the risk of the infection spreading. Photo: PTI

As West Bengal continued to struggle with the COVID crisis and the death count showed no sign of coming down, the very severe cyclonic storm Yaas brought along its added share of misery and destruction.

As West Bengal continued to struggle with the COVID crisis and the death count showed no sign of coming down, the very severe cyclonic storm Yaas brought along its added share of misery and destruction to the State on May 26. In spite of a near-lockdown situation from May 16, the number of deaths per day remained alarmingly high as the pandemic spread in rural areas. On top of all this, a growing number of mucormycosis cases created panic.

The number of new cases per day has come down. However, the number of deaths per day has remained over 140 since May 15 and from May 19 onwards it climbed to over 150. As of May 26, the total number of active cases stood at 1,20,378, including 16,255 new cases on that day. There were 153 deaths on May 26, which took the State’s total COVID toll to 14,980. There has been a perceptible decrease in the number of cases in Kolkata. But doctors are concerned about the way the pandemic is spreading in villages. Dr Punyabrata Gun, convener of the Joint Platform of Doctors, told Frontline: “The number of cases in Kolkata and its surrounding areas is coming down. Even a few days ago beds were not available in government hospitals, but now they are available in some of them. The number of telemedicine calls that we are attending has also come down, but the disease is spreading in villages, and that is worrying because the testing infrastructure is not there. As a result, we do not know the extent of the spread. This is also why we are not getting the correct figures on COVID deaths.”

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Mucormycosis cases

The rising number of mucormycosis cases triggered by COVID is causing panic, given the high mortality factor of the disease. As of May 26, there were at least 13 cases, with two of them ending in death, and around 11 suspected cases. But according to Dr Arjun Dasgupta, a well-known ENT specialist based in Kolkata, the situation is “not unmanageable”. Speaking to Frontline, he said, “This was something we were expecting. There were reports of cases of mucor in the first wave as well. This time it has come as a bigger wave. Though it is still manageable in Bengal, it obviously makes our job very difficult, given the infrastructure and resources that are already under strain. We ran out of COVID medicines, we ran out of beds and, like everything else, we ran out of mucor medicines too.” He said, however, that the panic notwithstanding, the ground situation was still well within control. “First, the mucor cases began to emerge in Bengal later than in other States. Already the companies are augmenting production of mucor medicines, and these will reach us soon. Second, the hospitals are also gearing up to meet the situation. Moreover, mucor, unlike COVID, is not unknown to us.”

Dr Dasgupta pointed out that the main drug for mucormycosis, Amphotericin B, is known to have severe side effects, particularly for kidneys. “The advanced version of the drug, Liposomal Amphotericin B, buffers the side effects to a large extent, but the problem is that it is extremely expensive. Since the disease itself is very rare, companies do not produce the drug in bulk. Most people will not be able to afford it, and here the role of the government comes in again as mucor cases will be increasing in the coming days,” he said. According to Dr Dasgupta, mortality for the disease is around 50 per cent when discovered in time and can otherwise go up to 70 per cent.

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The very severe cyclonic storm Yaas has complicated an already tense situation. According to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, more than 15 lakh people were evacuated from their homes and placed in around 14,000 cyclone shelters. Though the government tried its best to increase the number of shelters in a very short time, crowding was unavoidable. And that can be fatal in the present COVID situation.