Covid spike concerns as Siliguri gears up for Pujas

Covid spike concerns as Siliguri gears up for Pujas

As Siliguri gears up to celebrate Durga Puja amid the raging Covid19 pandemic, health specialists fear a likely spike in Covid-19 cases during the festivals if the Covid protocol is not strictly followed. Health department officials said it was now mostly up to the people to check the spread of the infection by taking precautions like wearing masks and avoiding crowds as many people will venture out for pandal-hopping during the Pujas.

The four-day-long Durga Puja celebrations are set to begin on 22 October.

“We would like to request people to use masks properly, avoid gathering, and use hand santisers while visiting pujas. If there is any laxity in maintaining health protocols, then there could be a disaster. Letting the guard down can lead to a surge in Covid cases during the festivals,” said the officer on special duty for Covid-19 in north Bengal, Dr Susanta Kumar Roy.


Releasing the standard operating procedures on preventive measures to contain spread of Covid-19 during festivities, the union health ministry on 6 October advised people of 65 years or older, those with co-morbidities, children below 10 years of age, people with underlying health disorders and pregnant women to stay away from public gatherings for worship, festivities, exhibitions, fairs, or rallies in the coming months.

A community medicine expert at the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital (NBMCH) has warned about the same and said there was no scope for complacency or carelessness here.

“We are concerned and apprehending that there could be a spurt in cases during and after Durga Puja and Kali Puja. It remains a bigger concern that whether the unrestricted socialisation will lead to a spike, and people should understand the gravity of the situation. Any let-up on adopting precautions can push the number upwards,” he said.

Darjeeling district chief medical officer of health Dr Pralay Acharya has, on the other hand, said they are ready to handle things if there is a surge in the cases. Meanwhile, the Darjeeling district Covid tally has gone past the 8,500 mark and there are around 750 active cases. It has so far recorded the highest number of Covid-19 cases among districts in north Bengal.

Some medical experts tracking the cases are of the opinion that people should not go pandal-hopping this Puja. Many community puja organisers have said they were preparing spacious pandals for air circulation, as per an advisory issued by chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

Meanwhile, most of the organisers have had to scale down the budget and settle down for low-key pujas this year, because of the “economic doom” triggered by the pandemic and the lockdown, even as they fail to get sponsors and advertisers. “We will follow the rules and the guidelines set by the state government. Apart from the open air marquee, we have stressed on our volunteers keeping a watch on visitors.

They will check whether they are using masks and a limited number of visitors will step inside turn-wise, maintaining a distance of at least six feet from one another,” said the secretary of the College Para Puja Committee, Somnath Moulik. Dr Roy, meanwhile, said he will address meetings with puja organisiers on the dos and don’ts in north Bengal soon.

In a meeting with the puja organising committees, state tourism minister Gautam Deb has recently stressed on using masks and maintaining social distancing. Mr Deb said all puja committees should have hand santisers.

“We need to be alert during the puja and take precautionary steps, else the graph of infections will go up. People should enjoy the puja, but by strictly complying with the health protocol,” Mr Deb said.

A senior doctor said he would advise people to refrain themselves from pandal-hopping.

“It should not be forgotten that Kerala’s daily count has increased since Onam. Crowd management will undoubtedly be not possible because it is obvious that the rules will not be strictly enforced everywhere. If people go pandalhopping in large numbers and display irresponsible behavior, then there can be a sharp rise in the number of cases,” the doctor said.

Covid Care Network, an organisation of health experts, Covid survivors, and healthcare workers, has urged people to enjoy the puja with caution.

The organisation will award a Durga puja committee that obeys the guidelines and follows rules. “People should enjoy the puja, but with all precautionary measures,” said the coordinator of the Siliguri chapter of the network and associate professor of pathology at the NBMCH, Dr Kalyan Khan.

“In order to encourage puja organisers, panelists in the network will select a puja which will be organised by following all the guidelines. They will review whether the government protocol is maintained, how much the organisers themselves are also aware, coming up with innovative thoughts to check Covid cases,” Dr Khan said.

The network will also display suggestions and comments of Nobel laureate Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee, who is also heading the Global Advisory Board for Covid Response Policy in West Bengal, on the situation through banners in the pujas to create awareness among the people. “We are hopeful his messages will have a positive impact on the people,” he added.

As Siliguri gears up to celebrate Durga Puja amid the raging Covid19 pandemic, health specialists fear a likely spike in Covid-19 cases during the fes

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