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Districts wake up to ‘third wave’ threat

Meanwhile, from Darjeeling to Cooch Behar, authorities concerned in north Bengal districts have revved up efforts to contain the spread of the virus amid the speculations.

Parag Biswas | Siliguri |

With Covid-19 cases steadily declining and north Bengal embracing unlocking along with the rest of the country, a distinct possibility of the much-talked-about ‘third wave’ in India hitting north Bengal and Sikkim or the north-eastern states first has entered in scientific and public discourse.

The decision of Prime Minster Narendra Modi to hold a Covid review meeting on 13 July with chief ministers of northeastern states, the increasing speculation among experts in north Bengal that the ‘third wave’ may enter India through the Siliguri corridor and the Centre’s indication that Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Rajasthan and Kerala may fuel the ‘third wave’ trend in India if cases do not come down in these states, have all led to an increasing feeling in north Bengal that if such a ‘third wave’ of the pandemic hits India, its impact may be first and most largely felt in north Bengal, Sikkim and north-eastern states.

Meanwhile, from Darjeeling to Cooch Behar, authorities concerned in north Bengal districts have revved up efforts to contain the spread of the virus amid the speculations. Biplab Roy Muhuri, the secretary of the Brihattara Siliguri Byabasayee Samitian association of retailers in Siliguri-told this correspondent today that in a high-level meeting called by the Siliguri Municipal Corporation with business organidations on 17 July, the corporation authorities had directed the organisations to keep different markets closed on different days in a week to avoid a possible ‘third wave’ of Covid-19 infections in Darjeeling district.

“The decision was taken mainly because of the number of new infections in Darjeeling district not dipping further after reaching a plateau about two weeks ago, and the Delta variant spurring an uptick in Covid cases in neighbouring Sikkim. In the first wave, many business persons got severely affected by the virus in Siliguri and the Champasari Market had to be shut down. Now that the experts have said that the third wave may enter India through north Bengal and Sikkim, both the authorities and the business community are extra cautious,” said Mr Muhuri, who added that the sub-divisional officer of Siliguri has called for another meeting for tomorrow to take stock of the Covid situation.

According to the Chief Medical Officer of Health in Cooch Behar, Dr Sukanta Biswas, a high-level meeting of the district administrative and health officials was held yesterday, where a decision was taken to adopt exigent measures to prevent a ‘third wave.’ “Medical teams would soon be sent to the 54 medical facilities in the district to monitor the Covid infrastructure there, besides other health facilities,” he said today.

Appreciating the efforts of the administrative and health authorities in north Bengal, Dr Ranadhir Chakraborty, a senior professor of the Department of Biotechnology, University of North Bengal, cautioned that the increasing number of cases in Darjeeling district, Sikkim, Mizoram, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh may trigger mutations in these states and regions.

“More infections mean more chances of replication, which in turn results in mutations in the structural proteins of a virus. If the dN/dS ratio of the coronavirus, which quantifies the mode and strength of selection of the mutation, becomes higher than one in a particular region or state, a dangerous mutation of the virus may take place there and kick-off a new wave,” said Chakraborty, who was part of an international team which mapped 71,703 genomes of the coronavirus till August 2020.

The senior microbiologist, who stressed on the need to increase genome sequencing facilities in eastern India as in other parts of the country, warned that mutations were taking place not only in the spike protein but also in almost all structural proteins of the coronavirus.

“It is a pity that India ranks 102 among the countries in the world in terms of genome sequencing facilities. When we mapped 71,703 genomes in November last year, we found many mutations occurring at various sites in the spike protein as well as in other structural proteins. The sequencing facilities should be expanded to identify mutations at the earliest and contain the spread of new strains,” he noted.

Dr Chakraborty further emphasised on the need to generate awareness among the people in north Bengal on the ways to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus. “In a span of just seven days, the number of cases has gone up from 38 to 82 in Darjeeling district. This is quite alarming. The Tana Bhagat community of Jharkhand has not recorded a single Covid-19 case since the pandemic began last year. Tana Bhagat community members, who are ardent followers of the Gandhian philosophy, are being applauded for setting an unusually high standard of hygiene as they beat the dreaded disease without reporting a single case.

None of the 3,481 families and 21,783 members belonging to Tana Bhagat, a community among the Oraon tribe of Jharkhand who follow pure vegetarian diet, has been infected by the SARSCoV-2 till date, mainly because of their high standards of cleanliness and hygiene, their tribal way of living in balance with the nature in properly ventilated houses and their green culture and consumption of green vegetables only, which has presumably built a very strong immunity among them,” he said.

“The civic authorities in north Bengal should encourage people to emulate the example set by the members of this community. We must accept that proper genomic surveillance, rapid identification of hotspots, isolation of covid positive patients, effective contact-tracing and strict adherence to the standard operating procedures alone can save us from the curse of the coronavirus,” he added.