Kolkata, April 23 : The West Bengal governments order banning mobile phones in Covid-19 hospitals has raised the hackles of opposition parties, which called the measure an attempt to hide the mismanagement in the treatment of the dreaded viral disease.
The government order, coming soon after a purported video of a state-run hospital showing a dead body lying in an isolation ward of suspected coronavirus patients became public, has raised suspicion in opposition circles about the motive behind the decision.
Union Minister and senior BJP leader Babul Supriyo, who made the video 'super-viral' by tweeting it and following it up with probing posers to the government, claimed the mobile ban order proved that the video was 'not fake'.
"Honble @MamataOfficial banning mobiles in hospitals Kind of proves that the Bangur Hospital video was not fake --Thank you," he tweeted.
The state health department came out with the order prohibiting mobile phones in an internal WhatsApp message to district magistrates, district chief medical officers (health) and superintendents of all Covid-19 hospitals.
"Since mobile phones can be a potential source of spreading Covid-19 infection, no one will be allowed to carry, possess or use mobile phones inside the Covid-19 hospitals in the state. This applies to all persons inside the hospital, whether patients or staff on duty. The deposit of patients' mobile phones may be taken and a receipt may be given to them," read the message.
However, the message also asked the officials to ensure that communication channels before the patients were not affected.
"While implementing this, take all measures for especially ensuring that the patients' need for communication with hospital authorities is attended to with due priority," the order said.
"To ensure they have a communication channel to the hospital administration, intercom facility may be provided in the wards. The contact number of the control room or the hospital superintendent/manager should be publicised prominently among the patients. Also, land-line arrangements with STD calling facility should be kept ready in case the patient needs to make a call or receive a call from outside," it added.
Both the CPI-M and the Congress assailed the state government move.
"This government is making all efforts to suppress the truth. This is another step in that direction. Had the government genuinely felt that mobiles are harmful, it would have taken this measure much earlier," Left Front legislative party leader and CPI-M state Secretariat member Sujon Chakraborty told IANS.
"When some videos have tumbled out despite the all-out attempts to hide the real picture of the health services in the state, the government has come up with this idea in an attempt to prevent even this bit of information from coming into the public domain, " said Chakraborty.
Echoing Chakraborty and Supriyo, leader of the opposition in the state legislature and Congress veteran Abdul Mannan said that it is for the doctors to decide how the hospital administration should be run.
"Too much of interference from the bureaucracy is improper. It's a proof of cover up attempts on the part of the government," said Mannan.
He said while it is true that random use of mobile phones, especially near a patient, is unwelcome, the government's action seems to have been guided by an 'ulterior motive'.
"We are going through a grave crisis. In such a situation, the government should stop bothering about such trivial things, desist from politicking and spend all its energies in the treatment of the sick and in ensuring the disease does not spread and is contained," Mannan told IANS.
IANS tried to get in touch with West Bengal Minister of State for Health, Chandrima Bhattacharya, but she refused to comment on the matter.
"You get in touch with the health department officials," Bhattacharya said.
A hospital official said the decision was guided by health reasons and no other motive should be attached to it.
"In worldwide Covid-19 protocol, it has been said that the virus can spread through mobile phones. So it's a welcome preventive step. And there is no point saying why it was not done earlier. Covid-19 is one of the toughest challenges modern civilisation has faced. You learn of your shortcomings as you go along. And then the loopholes need to be plugged," the official said on condition of anonymity.