COVID-19: New governments have no time to celebrate poll win, they must jump into pandemic war immediately

As the Trinamool Congress emerged as the clear winner in the West Bengal Assembly election, Mamata Banerjee said that combating the COVID-19 situation will be the topmost priority of her government and dedicated her party's resounding victory to the people of the state.

"For us, combating the COVID-19 situation will be the topmost priority... This is the victory of Bengal and only Bengal can do it," she said in her brief message to party workers.

With election results out for the four states of Kerala, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Assam, and the Union Territory of Puducherry, it is indeed time for the new governments to focus their efforts on combating the virus.

All the four states and the UT of Puducherry saw mass gatherings, rallies, meetings and roadshows throughout the month of March and till late April in Bengal where the election was held in eight phases between 27 March and 29 April.

While the jury is still out on whether or not the electioneering caused the recent spike in the poll-bound states, the total disregard for COVID-19 guidelines has been well-documented. During the Assembly elections, star campaigners and political leaders across party lines were spotted without masks while campaigning despite repeated requests from the Election Commission.

BJP leader and Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma during an election campaign rally. PTI

A complete disregard for COVID-19 guidelines was seen both among the campaigners as well as the supporters attending them. The Election Commission time and again pointed out these violations, but by the time any concrete steps were taken, it was probably already late.

In West Bengal, between 26 February, the day the election commission announced the schedule for the Assembly Election and 29 April,the day the eighth and final phase of the Assembly election was held, the daily COVID-19 cases rose from just 216 to 17,403. On 4 May, 17,639 new cases emerged while 107 patients succumbed to the virus.

In Kerala, where the Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF has returned to power for a second consecutive term, daily cases have grown by more than 10 times during the same period from 3,671 on 26 February. The state reported over 37,000 fresh COVID-19 cases on 4 May.

In Assam, which witnessed elections spread over three phases, the daily cases jumped from 34 on 26 February 2021 to over 3,000 as of 4 May.

The incumbent governments will return to power in three states — Assam, Kerala and West Bengal. In these states, this continuity may help efforts to control the spread of COVID-19.

In Bengal, Banerjee led efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 in the first wave from the front. Her government's efforts in taking care of the elderly have been widely noted, and have received attention in several media reports.

The COVID-19 management during the first wave under Vijayan is said to be the key reason for the LDF’s return to power. Now, it’s time for him and incumbent state health minister KK Shailaja to show the same leadership against the second wave of the virus.

Amid the rise in COVID-19 cases, the governments in Assam and West Bengal will need to work on multiple fronts such as supply of oxygen, beds, ventilators and medicines; as also food and other welfare measures for underprivileged people.

In Tamil Nadu, daily cases have jumped from 481 on 26 February to 21,228 on 4 May. Additionally, 144 deaths succumbed to the virus.

The state government has announced new lockdown measures to curb the spread from 6 May. Reports have said that DMK chief and the party’s leader of the legislature party MK Stalin had a detailed meeting with the top officials of the state government, including Chief Secretary Rajeev Ranjan, on the COVID-19 situation in the state.

This is a step in the right direction.

In Puducherry, cases have grown fro 20 in 26 February to 1,122 on 29 April and to 1,138 cases on 4 May. The UT has extended the lockdown till 10 May, but it must continue vaccinating its citizen while ensuring availability of beds to patients. Though the UT administration has denied it, there have been reports of people claiming a shortage of beds and other amenities in the government hospitals.

The new governments in the four states and one Union Territory will have to face the challenges of ensuring enough oxygen, hospital beds and COVID-19 tests, as well as ramping up vaccination.

With India’s vaccination strategy already politicised, and the shortage of jabs delaying inoculations— many who have received their first dose are at the risk of missing their second dose — the days ahead are not going to be easy for the new governments.

However, it is time for them to live up to the hopes of the electorate and take effective steps to curb the second wave of coronavirus.