West Bengal will be voting in the final round of the eight-phase assembly elections on Thursday amidst an alarming spike in the number of Covid-19 related cases, recording 104,596 cases between September 22 and 28, at a positivity confirmation rate of 27.87%.
This means, in the last week, one in every four persons testing for Covid-19 in the state were found to have the infection. As many as 449 Covid-19 patients died in these seven days. The social media sphere has been full of people’s pleas seeking help in getting hospital beds, oxygen cylinders, and some life-saving medicines.
What’s worrying is that of the 35 seats where the polls are being conducted on Thursday 11 are in the district of Birbhum and 6 are in Kolkata. While Kolkata has been the epicenter of the pandemic in the state since the first wave, accounting for 23.14% of the state’s total cases since the first case recorded in February last year, Birbhum has, during the second wave, emerged as the worst-hit among all rural districts in the state.
The spread of the pandemic in the state has mostly been centered in Kolkata and the urban parts of the districts of North 24-Parganas, Hooghly, Howrah, South 24-Parganas, and West Burdwan.
But Birbhum, a predominantly rural district, has shown an alarming spike recently. The district accounts for only 2.63% of the state’s total Covid-19 cases since February last year, but in the last week, Birbhum accounted for 4.69% of the state’s total cases. By the district’s standards, Birbhum has recorded in the last week 23.5% of its total cases (4,915 of total 20,910 cases) recorded since the first wave.
Known to be prone to political violence, the election commission had taken special measures to keep the Trinamool Congress (TMC)’s controversial district unit president Anubrata Mandal under a watch, both in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and in this assembly elections, for three days before the elections.
The rest of the seats include 11 in Murshidabad and 6 in Malda. While Malda has recorded over 3,500 cases in the past week, Murshidabad has recorded over 3,000.
So far, more than a dozen candidates from different parties have tested positive for Covid-19 during the campaign, including union minister Babul Supriyo who too is contesting, while three candidates have died.
The wife of the deceased TMC candidate from Khardah has approached the high court holding the election commission responsible for his death.