Testing for COVID-19 in Bengal must be increased and a reporting structure put in place, said Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee today. The 59-year-old economist has become part of the "Global Advisory Board" formed by Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to counter the blow to the economy as a fallout of the coronavirus outbreak.
At a joint press conference with the Chief Minister today, Mr Banerjee suggested that the reporting system should rope in Asha health workers. There could even be a hotline for reporting cases, he said.
Two days ago, Ms Banerjee had announced the formation of the board to help the state out of the coronavirus-induced economic slump. At the time, she had announced the plan to induct the Nobel laureate.
Today her office released the names of other members of the board. They include Swarup Sarkar, former regional director of WHO, Tom Frieden, ex-CDC of the US, Jisnu Das, economist, World Bank, JVR Prasad Rao, IAS, ex-health secretary of the Government of India, Siddharth Dube, Communications Specialist, UNAID, Sukumar Mukherjee, renowned doctor and Abhijit Chowdhury, renowned public health specialist who is also the convenor of the board.
Abhijit Banerjee joined Ms Banerjee's press meet from the US via Skype and after she finished the routine briefing, she asked him for his suggestions on tackling the COVID-19 problem.
Mr Banerjee said at crowded marketplaces, a system should be put in place for customers to wash their hands before and after their shopping and of course they should wear masks.
In her press meet, Ms Banerjee said the state had identified seven places in the state that were reporting COVID-19 cases and there were efforts to isolate them. She refused to disclose the names of the places when asked.
She also said, "don't ask communal questions" when asked for an update on Nizamuddin linked cases in Bengal.
Two more people have died in coronavirus in the state, taking the total number of deaths to five. Altogether 69 people in the state are active patients of COVID-19, 13 have recovered.
In some relaxation to the lockdown, Ms Banerjee said Kolkata's flower markets will reopen from tomorrow and from Wednesday, farmers could send in their produce from the districts to Kolkata. The police was instructed not to stop vehicles carrying flowers.
Bengal has a large number of people who make biris or indigenous cigarettes at home as part of a flourishing cottage industry. Ms Banerjee said people may make biris at home but in groups of not more than seven persons. They also have to maintain social distance, she said.