Healthcare professionals in Kolkata say the city is sitting on a coronavirus (COVID-19) time-bomb and that it won’t be too long before an explosion in the number of cases pushes its medical infrastructure to the verge of collapse like it has happened in other metros.
Kolkata, as it is, is not particularly known for a robust healthcare system and a huge number of patients from the city and West Bengal prefer to travel all the way to Chennai for treatment. But now, with even a medical hub like Chennai finding itself overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases, it could be a matter of time before hospitals in Kolkata too find themselves running out of beds.
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With government hospitals in the city already under strain ever since the pandemic broke out, the private sector has been holding fort, reserving beds and resources to fight COVID-19. But the projected cases are now worrying them as well. West Bengal has just crossed the 10,000-mark, with Kolkata not only accounting for nearly 3,500 of them but also witnessing a steady increase of 100-plus cases daily ever since the lockdown was lifted on June 1.
“In the entire city, the number of beds that can provide oxygen is a few thousand. If we cross the threshold of 1,000 positive cases per day, that will imply 50 (5%) critically-ill cases and another 50 (5%) who are ill due to co-morbidities. Given an average length of stay of 10-14 days, we will run out of beds in one week,” said Dr. Suresh Ramasubban of Apollo Gleneagles.
According to Dr. Saborni Paul, a resident in a private hospital, who, during the past three months, contemplated quitting several times but always found herself returning to work, said private hospitals in the city are now fast filling with COVID-19 patients. “It’s an unprecedented situation,” she said. “The staff in these institutions were counselled, cajoled and sometimes tempted with extra pay to continue in service — but how long would it hold?”
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Similar is the story at the Peerless Hospital, which had to shut down briefly last month when the infection spread among the healthcare staff. The hospital reopened after several rounds of fumigation and getting its staff to rejoin — many of the nurses had fled — and now has a dedicated COVID-19 ward.
“Our COVID ward is full. This morning we had to turn away two patients. We don’t know how many we will have to turn away in the coming days,” a senior hospital staff told The Hindu. “The only silver lining is that most patients have been recovering — for every 10 patients coming in, we see only one death.”
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Dr. Rahul Jain of Bellevue Clinic also saw hope in the low mortality rate. “In absolute terms of fatalities per million we are about 6 per million, which is very low compared to, say, the U.K. (600 per million) and the U.S. (300 per million) despite the latter having all the bells and whistles of a modern healthcare system. India and West Bengal will weather this storm as well. COVID-19 will be a test of our grit and character,” Dr. Jain said.