Doctors’ association alleges its warnings to the State government about the possible spike in Covid cases during Durga Puja celebrations have not been heeded

Published : October 16, 2020 19:27 IST

People throng a market ahead of the upcoming Durga Puja festival at the New Market area in Kolkata, on October 11. Photo: Ashok Bhaumik/PTI

Doctors in West Bengal have written an open letter once again warning the State government and political parties of the danger of COVID-19 spreading exponentially if proper precautions are not taken to control the festivities during the upcoming Durga Puja. The open letter, posted on social media and also sent to various media houses on October 16 by the Joint Platform of Doctors West Bengal, said that its earlier letter addressed to the Chief Minister and the Chief Secretary apprising them of the imminent catastrophe appeared to have gone unnoticed.

“We had at first written to the Chief Minister and the Chief Secretary and then to all political parties warning them that if the celebrations during the Durga Puja are not controlled, then post-Pujas there may be a tremendous rise in Coronavirus cases and deaths. But we have not seen any reaction from their end,” stated the open letter. It pointed out that the rush for puja shopping and preparations for the pujas are continuing undeterred, which can spell disaster for the people of the State. “If the situation continues in this fashion, then we can gauge how swiftly the number of cases will increase in the State…. So many beds will not be available at the same time in the hospitals, nor will there be enough ventilators, doctors and health workers,” the letter stated. The doctor’s platform said in no uncertain terms that without proper treatment, the death count will rise.

The doctors’ body indicated that its apprehensions were being ignored, and the hectic activities in preparation of the Durga Puja was being encouraged. “If our fears come true, then neither the ruling party and the State administration, nor the opposition parties will be able to shift the responsibility on to anybody else…. There is still time and we once again appeal to the political parties, the State government, and the Puja Committees to pay heed to our earnest appeal and save lives,” the open letter said. Around 15,000 people have already signed the appeal made by the Joint Platform of Doctors.

Earlier, two doctors’ organisations—the West Bengal Doctor’s Forum and the Joint Platform of Doctors—had written to the State government warning them of the danger of COVID-19 spreading because of the Durga Puja celebrations. It cited the example of cases rising in Kerala following the Onam celebrations. Punyabrata Gun of the Joint Platform of Doctors told Frontline: “The State government has made a number of announcements to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the Durga Pujas, but it has not taken any steps to implement those announcements.”

HIGH COURT ORDER

In another important development, the Calcutta High Court ruled that the State government’s grant of Rs.50,000 to each of the community pujas in the State will have to be used for effectively combating the spread of coronavirus. Hearing a petition challenging the State government’s grant, a Division Bench of the High Court ruled that the puja committees will have to spend 75 per cent of the grant on providing face masks, hand sanitisers and other protective gear to visitors to the puja pandals, and 25 per cent on community policing. The committees will also have to present an account of their expenditure to the State government.

On September 24, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had announced that the government would provide a dole of Rs.50,000 to each of the 37,000-odd puja committees in the State. “I know the puja committees are in a bad way…. Since this time you are facing more problems, the State government will give each of you Rs.50,000,” she had said then. Last year, the State government had extended a grant of Rs.25,000 to around 28,000 puja committees and clubs, and the year before that it granted Rs. 10,000 each. Mamata Banerjee’s decision was criticised by opposition parties who alleged that she was playing the religious card before the Assembly elections in the State, scheduled for 2021.

The court reportedly made it clear that the money provided by the State government to the puja committees cannot be spent on any festivity. The State government claimed in the court that giving a grant to puja committees did not go against secular principles, and that it was given to implement certain government directives.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 situation in Bengal continues to worsen, with the number of cases increasing on a daily basis. As of October 15, the number of new cases in a single day was 3,720. Out of the total 3,09,417 who had tested positive, 32,463 were active cases. The number of COVID deaths stood at 5,932, including 62 deaths on October 15. While there is excitement at the approach of the Durga Puja, there is also feeling of panic among many who fear the COVID situation may well go completely out of control with the festivities and the merriment.

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