An uneasy silence has gripped the city of Kolkata, whose streets were witnessing dizzying political activity until recently but where arterial roads are now ruled by the sound of hurrying ambulances.
The question uppermost on the minds of its people is no longer “Who will come to power?” but “What if we need hospitalisation due to COVID-19?” Hospitals in the city are already refusing admission citing lack of beds and the situation expected to unfold in the coming days is unlikely to be vastly different from what’s playing out in many other parts of the country, where patients are gasping for timely attention.
“It hardly matters to me now who is forming the next government [in West Bengal], I just want my family to recover soon,” Suparna Basu, a homemaker and an ardent supporter of the Left parties, told The Hindu. Last Wednesday, she and her family members tested positive for COVID-19, and she’s hoping that her elderly in-laws will not need hospitalisation.
“Such is the fear now that people seem to be in denial. My in-laws kept on insisting they had common cold, and that they might contract COVID-19 if they got tested. Now that both are positive, we are constantly monitoring their oxygen levels,” Ms. Basu said.
On Friday morning, Praggamoy Dasgupta, another Kolkata resident, was looking for a bed with ventilator for his 67-year-old father, a COVID-19 patient with multiple co-morbidities and currently admitted in a smaller hospital. “All the big hospitals have refused. One hospital, CMRI, told me they have patients staying there as long as for a month,” Mr. Dasgupta said.
Doctors, on the personal level, are doing what they can. The West Bengal Doctors’ Forum (WBDF) has started what it calls a philanthropic service for those asymptomatic or showing mild symptoms: as many as 107 doctors are taking turns to offer telemedicine support to such patients.
“This is the time to set up a war room at Swasthya Bhawan (the State Health Ministry’s office). Every call needs to be attended to. Numerous organisations are doing it on their own. Bring all of them under one umbrella — all hands on board! Quick triaging holds the key. Those in positions of power need to act and act fast. We simply cannot afford to wait till May 2 (when counting of votes will begin for the recently-concluded Assembly elections in West Bengal),” said Dr. Koushik Chaki, founding secretary of WBDF.