Apprehending a spike in COVID-19 infections during the upcoming Durga Puja festival season, the West Bengal government today cancelled leave for all health workers, doctors, and officials, promised more Covid beds and nurses, and cut down the cost of a COVID-19 test by Rs 750, bringing it down from Rs 2,250 to Rs 1,500 in one go.
While the government provides free ambulance service to patients, it has announced it will cap prices for ambulance services hired privately to ferry patients to hospitals.
The state also plans to ramp up the number of hospital beds and health officials available. Prices for the COVID-19 real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction test has been cut from Rs 2,250 to Rs 1,500, officials said today.
At least one senior executive from the private health sector, however, felt this may not be viable.
"We will be implementing it (price cut) as per the government directive given that these are pandemic times. However, we would also like to present our case to reconsider the rate as this is not financially viable for us, taking into account the cost of reagent, test kit, and infrastructure," said Rupak Barua, Group CEO of AMRI Hospitals.
"Contrary to popular belief, private hospitals have been suffering losses for the last eight months, and this will further affect our condition," said Mr Barua, who is also President of the Association of Hospitals of Eastern India.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, meanwhile, said all the leave stands cancelled for doctors, health workers, and health department officials during the Durga Puja festival from October 22 to 26.
Ms Banerjee asked people to strictly adhere to all precautions during the functions.
"I ask everybody to follow the COVID-19 safety protocols during the festive season. There are instance of community transmission of COVID-19 and also the contagion becoming air borne," Ms Banerjee said at a press meet at her office today.
Ms Banerjee said that, like every year, she herself will inaugurate the festivities from her office on October 15, 16 and 17, although it will be a virtual exercise this time.
On Sunday, West Bengal recorded its highest single-day spike of 3,612 Covid-19 cases, taking the state's total tally to 2,94,806, taking the number of deaths recorded in the state to 5,622.
In an October 4 letter to Ms Banerjee, members of the Joint Platform of Doctors had warned her of a "tsunami" of infections if public gatherings during the Durga Puja celebrations are not restricted. The platform cited examples of Onam celebrations leading to such a spike in Kerala and the International Women's Day in Spain, suggesting that the pujas be celebrated virtually this time.