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In Kolkata, mood turns sombre as COVID-19 cases mount dramatically

Almost everybody in city now has a friend or relative who has tested positive

If humour is a reflection of the times and seeks to make light of the prevailing challenges, then two WhatsApp forwards currently in circulation aptly sum up the COVID-19 situation in West Bengal and its capital Kolkata. One of them says, “If you are from Kolkata and none of your friends are COVID positive yet, then you don’t have friends.” And according to the other, Bengal is currently divided into two people: those who have tested positive, and those who have not tested and are negative.

The mood in Kolkata, from being extraordinarily festive during Christmas, is now suddenly sombre, with roads and offices and public places appearing deserted. The pandemic, it is feared, will further tighten its grip on the State and, by extension, the rest of the country, by the time the Ganga Sagar Mela, to be held in Sagar island from January 8 to 16, comes to a close. On Friday, the Calcutta High Court permitted the government to hold the annual mela, which attracts lakhs of pilgrims from across India.

Almost everybody in the city now has a friend or relative who has tested positive. Those positive are curious to know whether they are infected by the Omicron or Delta variant, but there’s no way of knowing. To compound matters, several labs in the city are now — apparently according to latest ICMR guidelines — placing those with a CT value of less than 35 in the RTPCR test as COVID-positive.

“In Bengal, the number of new cases on Thursday was 15,421, active patients 41,101, but Omicron infected only 20. Likewise, in the country, the number of new cases was 90,928, active patients 2,84,155, but Omicron infected just 2,630. From this data, can we implicate Omicron as the prime mover behind the third wave — or Delta? Or is it flurona — flu and corona? Or some other variant? What are we missing?” asked Dr. Koushik Lahiri, a well-known city dermatologist.

Writer Rajeshwari Mitra said, “This time I know of entire families that are infected. Thankfully, the severity of the disease seems less because most of the affected are recovering in two to three days. This also happens to be the season of cough and cold, and that’s only adding to the confusion. I think it is important for one to get tested.”

Anupama Maitra, who teaches English at a college and lives on the southern fringes of the city, said the number of active cases in her housing complex — comprising 1,250 flats — on Friday stood at 45 and was going up by 10-15 daily. On Thursday, her 15-year-old daughter got her first dose of the vaccine at her school.

“We reached the school as per the time slot given to us. Our temperature was checked at the gate and our clothes and shoes were sprayed with sanitiser. My daughter was taken inside while I waited in the school lawn where there was adequate seating arrangement. She was given a Covaxin shot and was asked to wait for half an hour. She came out after 30 minutes and we came home. It was very smooth and efficiently managed,” she stated.

‘No cause for panic’

In spite of the surge in the number of daily cases, internal medicine specialist Dr. Rahul Jain, who barely had time for his meals during the second wave, said there was no cause for panic at the moment. “The COVID graph has shot up like an unfettered bull run on the stock market. But the cases are mostly mild, few need oxygen supplementation. The number of ICU admissions also remains low. But yes, the number of healthcare workers getting infected is alarming. It will be difficult to manage patients if nurses and doctors fall sick,” he observed.

“Hopefully COVID-19 will become milder with every subsequent mutation and wave. The immune system will be prepared with hybrid immunity conferred by repeated infections and vaccinations,” he added.

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