West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee (Photo Credit: PTI)
West Bengal reported 16 fresh COVID-19 cases on Thursday, the highest spike in the number of cases so far in a single day, even as policemen were attacked in some parts of the state while enforcing the lockdown to combat the coronavirus outbreak. The state administration seems to be a divided house over the number of COVID-19 cases, with the health department saying the total figure is 53 and Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha pegging it at 34 active cases.
"In the last 24 hours, 16 fresh cases have been reported in Bengal. The total number of cases in the state is 53. The death toll is seven and three persons have been cured. So the number of active cases is 43," a senior health department official told a press conference at the state secretariat.
He, however, did not divulge the details of the new cases. Within an hour, Sinha conducted a media briefing, where he brought down the figure of positive cases to 37 -- what Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had said on Wednesday. Banerjee had asserted that of the six deaths till Wednesday, three persons had died of coronavirus and the remaining three passed away due to other underlying ailments such as kidney disorder, but media houses were raising the figure for the sake of sensationalism.
"The total number of active coronavirus cases is 34 now and three others have died due to COVID-19," Sinha said. Opposition parties CPI(M) and BJP were quick to slam Banerjee for "trying to hide" the actual figures of COVID-19 deaths and active cases, and asked her to refrain from such "illegal action", which would be counterproductive.
"The chief minister is trying to hide the death figure. This is absurd. What is there to be ashamed of? She should not hide the truth. This will adversely affect the entire process of containing the outbreak," state BJP chief Dilip Ghosh said.
He claimed that Banerjee had earlier tried to hide the dengue death figure too. During the 2017 dengue outbreak in the state, Banerjee had claimed that some private healthcare units were reporting deaths from an "unknown fever" as deaths caused by dengue to "malign" her government.
CPI(M) state secretary Surya Kanta Mishra echoed Ghosh and said it was for doctors to certify the reason behind the deaths and not the chief minister. "It is absurd and unethical to claim that people died due to kidney ailments and other diseases even after being tested positive for coronavirus. If she (Banerjee) is doing it, it is an illegal intervention. This should immediately stop," he said.
Senior Congress MP Pradip Bhattacharya demanded that the state government reveal the actual figures instead of "hiding" those. Meanwhile, at least nine policemen were injured in some parts of the state while enforcing the ongoing 21-day lockdown to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Stones were thrown at quick response teams in South 24 Parganas and West Midnapore districts when they stopped people from assembling.
In two incidents at the Bhangore area of South 24 Parganas and Goaltore in West Midnapore, police personnel were beaten up when patrolling teams stopped youngsters from gathering. A sub-inspector, two assistant sub-inspectors and six constables were injured in the two incidents. Five persons were arrested for their alleged involvement in the Bhangore incident, while no arrests have so far been made for the West Midnapore incident.
Meanwhile, scores of devotees assembled in temples in various parts of the state on the occasion of Ram Navami, giving a thumbs down to the social-distancing norms prescribed by the government during the ongoing nationwide lockdown.
State Education Minister Partha Chatterjee announced that all students studying in Classes 1 to 8 will be automatically promoted to the next class in view of the emergent situation due to the coronavirus outbreak.