The seventh episode of the second season of DEF Dialogue took place in conversation with Sheikh Nadeem of Uttar Dinajpur, Siliguri District of West Bengal. Nadeem is a teacher by profession and has been staying in the city of Kolkata for this reason. He has been witnessing and closely observing the myriad situations around the Covid-19 pandemic around him.
Like the rest of the country, West Bengal too had a similar trajectory in terms of Covid-19 spread and the subsequent deaths — the first wave took few lives of people who were far away from us. But, the second wave created havoc — too many lives were lost, lives of people who we have known, people of our circles, the ones we have interacted with, the acquaintances.
Since one cannot see that virus, people started to take it quite lightly. But this time the death rate is quite high which compelled people to take the coronavirus pandemic quite seriously and started to consider the entire situation dangerous. And the situation did become highly concerning with deaths happening in every family and neighborhood.
Nadeem owes the major reason behind high deaths and uncontrollable spread of virus particularly in Bengal to poor and vague public health communication around Covid-19 like its spread, the protocols to be followed, and dissemination of fake news and myths. He points this out because the second wave had hit every corner of India, unlike the first wave which didn’t reach the rural and remote areas, and this time it had hit rural areas majorly because of lack of awareness. According to Nadeem, in West Bengal, selected areas are urbanised, but mostly i.e. 71% area still falls under the rural part of the state, and precisely why the messages could not reach those remote areas leading to the miserable situation.
Moreover, the Covid-19 management at a local level as well as central level also raises questions on the handling of the situation. Nadeem says that when the second wave hit, the elections happened under the authorities like the election commission, state, and central government. The election duties, rallies, and voting took place as if everything was normal, without concern about the common man’s lives. People went for election duties and got infected, which shows that no thoughts were put in for a common person’s health. The intensity with which the second wave had hit, the management did not work accordingly.
“I personally believe that the elections could have been postponed, but the lives that have been lost, either of my relatives or in general, won’t be revived”, says Nadeem. The mass gatherings held due to elections have affected Bengal a lot.
He further says, “the steps that the governments — both state and central— should have taken, the kind of alertness they are showing now, why a similar attitude was not carried before the election time!?”
Nadeem says that irrespective of any pandemic that engulfs any country, the most affected sections will always be the marginalized ones, especially the economically deprived ones. Last year migrants walked back to their homes and this time many like them do not have food to eat or sources of income or any stable livelihood.
Another aspect that is becoming more important day by day are the hospitals. Nadeem says that no one has really bothered or cared about the public health infrastructure and the scarcity of hospitals, doctors, beds, oxygen has always existed. In other words, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the situation of public health infrastructure has always been in shambles. He quotes an example of lack of doctors to look after pregnant women. So, during the pre-Covid times, no one realised and people have suffered in silence. But Covid- 19 bared open all these inequities when people in large numbers are accessing these broken health infrastructures. “All the covid-19 centres are full as of now, at least of the areas I am aware of” says Nadeem.
But, people’s attitudes have drastically changed with respect to the shifts from first to second wave. Unlike last year, people are scared now but again fear is temporary. People are following the Covid-19 protocols like, wearing masks, maintaining distance, avoiding public transport and so on.
Nadeem puts forth a point with regards to people’s careless attitude towards Covid-19 protocols. He says, “if people have sufficient food at their homes, why would they step outside, after all, their own lives matter to them. If they are stepping outside, there must be some reasons like lack of awareness, a major reason being lack of money”.
Nadeem suggests that it is crucial to remain alert and aware of one’s health and any symptoms of Covid-19. People must mask up, maintain social distance and sanitize. Also, if the patient is infected with coronavirus and is mildly affected, try to get them to recover at home, which necessarily would not mean getting oxygen at home. It would be best if one could be cured in home’s environment with proper isolation, separate rooms, and nutritious food and without unnecessarily rushing to the hospitals.