Large number of journalists covering Bengal Assembly polls test positive for Covid-19

Large number of journalists covering Bengal Assembly polls test positive for Covid-19

Kolkata: As the number of fresh Coronavirus cases continue to rise in West Bengal in the middle of the ongoing Assembly polls, a large number of journalists, who have been reporting election events, tested positive for COVID-19. Reportedly, the journalists who got infected, were reporting Bharatiya Janata Party's 'Parivartan Yatra' campaign and covering other election programmes.

The infected journalists are reportedly working for the Times of India group, Anandabazar Patrika, ABP Ananda, 24 Ghanta. These journalists are also regular visitors of the BJP media cell at Hotel Hindustan International here.

A total of 40 journalists of ABP Ananda along with Suman Dey, the Vice President and Atanu Halder, the Bureau Chief has got infected with COVID. Dey recently interviewed Union Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP state president Dilip Ghosh, BJP Nandigram candidate Suvendu Adhikari and actor Mithun Chakraborty, who has been roped in by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and has been campaigning for BJP candidates.

Another senior journalist from Zee Media, Anjan Bandyopadhyay, who also interviewed Shah, tested positive for COVID.

The journalists from Delhi, who especially travelled to West Bengal during different phases of the ongoing Assembly polls, many of them with BJP ministers or central leaders, got infected and are either in home isolation or hospitalised. Ravi Kant from the News Nation channel is in a very critical condition in a private hospital in Noida. He was also seen interviewing Amit Shah.

With the growing number of cases every day in West Bengal, even though the Election Commission asked to follow COVID protocol, another six major rallies of the Prime Minister are set to take place. Though, the rallies of PM are held with strict adherence to COVID-19 guidelines and protocols. All the party leaders share a dais with the Prime Minister or receive him at the airport and the party workers who are in charge of his election programmes have to go through the RT-PCR test.

Reportedly, on Friday during PM Modi's rally in Asansol, 190 people were also examined and 24 such BJP workers and leaders, who were in charge of the programme, tested COVID positive.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah has been doing over 15 public meetings and rallies every month. The Prime Minister himself has done over 15 public rallies so far, apart from government programmes. 40 BJP MPs, including central ministers –Smriti Irani, Prahlad Patel, Arjun Munda, Dharmendra Pradhan, Rajnath Singh among others are holding various programmes across the state.

The spike in COVID cases in the Darjeeling district of North Bengal indicates that there is a link between such relentless election campaign as people are getting infected with the virus. On April 9, 52 active COVID cases were reported from Darjeeling, including- 28 from Siliguri, 5 from Sukna, 11 from Matigara, 1 from Naxalbari, 1 from Phansidewa, 3 from Kurseong Municipality, and 3 from Sukhiapokhri. Later, till April 12, there was a decline in the graphs.

However, after Amit Shah's rallies in different parts of North Bengal, the graphs rose to 73 per cent. On April 13, 90 cases were reported from Darjeeling- 59 from Siliguri Municipality, 2 from Darjeeling Municipality, 2 from Kurseong Municipality, 1 from Marik, 11 from Matigara, 11 from Naxalbari and 4 Phansidewa. Also, a total of 85 cases were reported from various parts of Jalpaiguri on that day with a 112.5 per cent rise. Even, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath tested COVID positive after his north Bengal tour.

On Thursday, Rezaul Haque, Congress' nominee from the Samsherganj Assembly constituency in the Murshidabad district died due to COVID infection. Pradip Nandi, an RSP candidate from Jangipur suffering from COVID, Junior minister in Mamata's cabinet Golam Rabbani, a TMC candidate from Goalpokhor in North Dinajpur, also tested positive. BJP candidate from Karimpur in Nadia, Samarendranath Ghosh, has also tested positive and is now in isolation.

However, Union Home Minister Amit Shah disapproved of the connection between the Corona surge and the election campaign. Attributing the issue while giving an interview, Shah asserted that it is "not right" to link the surge in Coronavirus cases in India to elections. Even the cases are rising in states where elections were not taking place; he added giving an example of Maharashtra.

Meanwhile, reportedly, the city airport has handled the highest number of chartered planes and helicopters compared with any other elections in the state. Official says that nine out of 10 of those were hired by the BJP. In March, the airport had handled 140 chartered planes and helicopters. Around 30 per cent of them were helicopters, the rest were aircraft with five to 15 seats. The choppers used were mostly five-seater.

During this election, the incumbent Trinamool Congress has many times raised the issue of outsiders. Even the locals claimed that people from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Odisha, Jharkhand are coming to the state and living at various places till the election ends. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee also claimed that these outsiders are carrying the virus and infecting others.

To add a new dimension to its campaign, the Bharatiya Janata Party has also organised a new outreach programme of addressing groups at different housing societies, local community halls with a gathering of 200-500 people. This is to reach out to the urban and suburban voters.

However, the Election Commission on Friday ordered curbs on campaigning for the last three phases, including extending the silence period before voting from 48 hours to 72 hours and barring all campaigning from 7 pm to 10 am, because of the rising COVID-19 cases. The EC's decision came on the eve of the fifth phase of polling on Saturday.

In its order, the EC said it had observed violations of its August 2020 COVID-19 guidelines for election rallies, meetings and events during the ongoing Assembly elections and warned parties that it would not hesitate in banning such events if it continued.

The last three phases of the Assembly elections of West Bengal will be on April 22, April 26 and on April 29. The result will be declared on May 2.

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