COVID-19 virus spread in Patna not because of migrants, but due to social functions, lack of awareness, says study

The study was conducted by retired civil servant K.C. Saha and published by the Patna-based Asian Development Research Institute.

A study has found that migrants, despite their large numbers, did not cause a major spread in the COVID-19 pandemic in Bihar’s Patna district. Rather, the “lack of awareness about social distancing and wearing masks by people resulted in the quick spread of the virus”, it found. The study also cautioned that “infection is likely to increase in the second wave in the festival months of October, November and December 2021”.

The study titled ‘Learning From Covid-19 cases — A Sociological Study of Patna District, Bihar’ by retired civil servant K.C. Saha, published by the Patna-based the Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI), states, “Intermingling of people in the busy markets, marriages and other social functions contributed largely to the spread of the virus. Infections amongst women increased during marriages as there is a custom in Bihar of group singing by ladies, for the whole night for a few days before the wedding date.”

Over 25 lakh migrants had returned to Bihar after the lockdown was announced in March 2020, and again in June 2021, from across the country. Some reports had suggested they were carriers of the deadly SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

The study also shows that the most number of male positive cases were reported in the month of July 2020 and April 2021 in the age groups of 21-40 years and 41-60 years. Data from 23,344 positive cases of Patna town also suggested that the virus’ spread was negligible in slums but “severe in town”.

“None of the slums reported a single case of Covid-19, whereas many VIP areas of town reported a number of cases. Except for 3-4 persons, none of the 7300 sanitary staff of the Patna Municipal Corporation (PMC) who mostly stay in slums or, their family members, had been affected by Covid-19,” the study said.

“Remote Panchayats had only few cases of Covid-19. It has been learnt that Panchayats in the Tal area of Mokama block (where water remains logged for six months in a year) had no Covid-19 cases,” it also said.

Epidemic preparedness

Mr. Saha, a retired IAS officer and formerly with the Bihar Lokayukta, has also made some recommendations. “It will be useful to prepare Health Disaster Management Plans and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) based on the experience of Covid-19 and continuously updating those plans based on new evidence to enhance epidemic preparedness in the state. The SOPs should include constitution of Emergency Operating Centre and the Technical Advisory Committee at the State and the District level,” he suggested.

Additional budgetary allocation may be required to improve health infrastructure such as additional Primary Health Centres and Community Health Centres, and strengthening District Hospitals, the study noted.

The study further suggested strengthening disease surveillance and laboratory testing infrastructure by training key officials. It also recommends a “Public Health Management Cadre” at the State, district and block levels; a data management team at health facilities; proper monitoring of cases of home isolation; involvement of Panchayati Raj institutions; establishing linkages with rural health practitioners and other private doctors; preparing “Panchayat Health Maps”; regular national and regional workshops on COVID-19, etc.

The study also cautioned that infections were likely to increase in the festival months of October, November and December, 2021 “unless strict control measures are taken in these three months”. It said, “People did not take precautions as per the protocol during the festivals in these three months in 2020. This implies that drop in the number of cases does not allow us to take liberties rather one has to remain vigilant for all times, otherwise the spread of virus is likely to increase.”

“The study is helpful in identifying some of the probable factors contributing directly and indirectly to the spread of COVID-19. The State government may adopt its recommendations to be more efficient in planning emergency responses and reducing impact on vulnerable populations,” said Prabhat P. Ghosh, director, Centre for Health Policy, ADRI.

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