Patna: Fear is growing in Bihar over the fast spread of COVID-19 as reports of more and more positive cases and deaths are pouring day after day. What is alarming is that positive cases are now being reported from rural areas, which were more or less untouched till recently.
A day after 394 positive cases were reported on Monday, the biggest single day spike till date, that pushed the total tally of confirmed cases to 9,618, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar instructed officials to scale up testing to 15,000 per day.
Before this, the highest single day spike was 301 positive cases that were reported on June 27.
This fear factor is reflected on the ground with the state's largest wholesale medicine market, Govind Mitra Road, in Patna remained closed on Tuesday after two shop owners reported positive and a medical representative, who was working closely with a big medicine shop here ,died due to coronavirus a few days ago.
Similarly, Patna-based Mahavir Cancer Sansthan, the biggest private cancer hospital in the state, decided to close its OPD (out-patient department) from June 29 to July 5, in view of the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the state, particularly in Patna.
“We have decided to contain the spread of COVID-19 and taken this precautionary measure to close OPD and emergency services of the Sansthan, as we are aware that immunity of cancer patients is weak and they are most vulnerable to getting the infection, if exposed,” said L B Singh, superintendent of the hospital.
Singh said the hospital will not admit any new patient and has started sanitisation of the premises and wards, where old patients are undergoing treatment.
AIIMS-Patna also closed its laboratory for 24 hours on Monday after a lab technician tested positive.
The Patna Chemist and Druggists Association on Monday announced that the wholesale medicine market will be shut from June 30 to July 2 to contain the spread of coronavirus infection and to sanitise the market. But after pressure from the government, the association has decided to close the market for only one day.
Association member Arjun Yadav said the wholesale medicine market had become crowded during the unlock period with people visiting shops hardly maintaining physical distance. Only a few of them were using masks.
But, what is disturbing is that positive cases are reportedly increasing in rural areas. Take, for instance, the 94 persons who attended a marriage party in Deehpali village under Paliganj block in Patna district last week, and tested positive on Monday. Most of those tested positive are residents of different villages in Paliganj, about 50 km from Patna and other blocks.
According to the local police, all these persons tested positive after the groom, a 30-year-old software engineer working in Delhi, died two days after his marriage, which created panic as it was suspected that he was suffering from coronavirus. The groom was cremated without a COVID-19 test as his family did not inform the local administration. But news spread that groom died due to coronavirus.
“There is no doubt that a single marriage party was behind the spread of coronavirus. The guidelines of social distancing were violated as more than 100 people attended the wedding against 50 allowed by the administration,” a police official said.
Police officials said the groom arrived in his village three days ahead of his wedding. He was suffering from symptoms of COVID-19 that were overlooked and ignored by the family.
Paliganj in rural Patna has become a big hot spot in the state and district administration has sealed some villages and launched an operation to trace all those who attended the marriage party.
As per health officials,109 positive cases were reported in Patna alone on Monday, most of these were from rural areas, including Paliganj. In the past few days, positive cases reported from rural Patna include Paliganj, Masaurhi,Naubatpur, Bihta, Bikram and Dulhinbazar.
Positive cases are being reported from rural areas in other districts as well.
In mid-June, the state government directed all district civil surgeons to conduct more tests in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19. Bihar Health Secretary Lokesh Kumar Singh admitted that officials have been directed to collect more samples at the community level, as thousands of migrant workers had returned to their native villages. Officials have been attributing the spike to them.
No doubt that Bihar has increased its testing rate. After lagging in testing for nearly three months, as official data revealed that it has one of the lowest testing rates in the country, Bihar has been conducting 6,000 to 7,000 tests daily.
Singh said 6,827 samples were tested on Monday (June 29) and 7,447 samples were tested on Sunday (June 28).
Interestingly, this is happening nearly one-and-half months after Nitish Kumar instructed officials to scale up testing to 10,000 per day.
Till date, Bihar, with an estimated population of nearly 12.50 crore, has tested 2, 12,659 samples, including random sampling of migrant workers who had returned from other states.
Sensing a more challenging time ahead, Nitish Kumar has now directed officials to scale up testing to 15,000 per day. But that appears a big task. With 127 positive cases reported on Tuesday, Bihar now has 9,745 confirmed cases, with 66 deaths.
What is alarming is that at a time when COVID-19 cases are rising and spreading in rural areas, the state government closed down all quarantine centres at the block level from June 15 and asked returning migrant workers to be in home quarantine. Prior to that, those who returned to the state from outside, had to be in quarantine for 14 days.