Doctors fear the possibility of a spike in the number of COVID cases as local train services resume after seven months in West Bengal

Published : November 11, 2020 17:05 IST

The scene at Sealdah station in Kolkata as train services resumed on November 11. Photo: RUPAK DE CHOWDHURI/REUTERS

After more than seven months, the local train and suburban rail services in West Bengal resumed on November 11, much to the relief of lakhs of commuters.

The train services resumed from 5 a.m. on November 11, with a total of 696 trains pressed into service. While the Eastern Railways will be running 413 suburban trains over the Sealdah Division and 202 trains over the Howrah Division, the South Eastern Railway will be running 81 EMU (Electric Multiple Unit) local trains.

Even though the resumption of the local train services has been welcomed by lakhs of people who were facing enormous difficulties travelling to work every day, it has also brought with it the risk of a spike in the number of COVID cases. Despite all the precautions being taken—checking at the railway stations to ensure people wear masks, making hand sanitizers available in stations and requesting people to maintain social distancing and adhere to COVID protocols—crowding inside the trains cannot be avoided although the number of people travelling would be considerably less than usual.

According to Fuad Halim, an eminent Kolkata-based physician, the situation is particularly dangerous as “neither the State government nor the Central government has declared as to which level of the pandemic we are in, as per WHO guidelines”. According to Halim, the lack of this information from the two governments is reflected in the attitude and response of the people of the State. Said Halim: “The resumption of the train and transport services will have to be meticulously planned according to the social distancing norms that are required in a COVID pandemic. Since the volume of traffic will be high and physical distancing will have to be maintained, the number of vehicles and the frequency of trains will have to be increased massively to accommodate the people. If the facility is inadequate it will lead to an explosion in the number of COVID cases in the coming months.”

Punyabrata Gun, convenor of the Joint Platform of Doctors, feels that though the resumption of local train services was necessary, it will nevertheless increase the risk of further spread of COVID-19. He said: “There will be an increase in the number of cases, but there is really nothing to do here, as people’s livelihood is being affected. The only way to restrict the spread of the infection in the given situation is proper use of masks. There are still many who are not conscious about the necessity of wearing masks properly.”