Geographical Appraisal of COVID-19 in West Bengal, India

Abstract

Study shows that COVID-19 cases, deaths and recoveries vary in macro level. Geographical phenomena may act as potential controlling factor. The present paper investigates spatial pattern of COVID-19 cases and deaths in West Bengal (WB), India and assumes Kolkata is the source region of this disease in WB. Thematic maps on COVID related issues are prepared with the help of QGIS 3.10 software. As on 15th January 2021, WB has 564032 number of COVID-19 cases which is 0.618% to the total population of the state. However, the COVID-19 case for India is 0.843% and for world is 1.341% to its total population. Lorenz Curve shows skewed distribution of the COVID-19 cases in WB. 17 (90%) districts hold 84.11% of the total population and carry 56.30% of the total COVID-19 cases. However, the remaining two districts—Kolkata and North 24 Parganas—hold remaining 43.70% COVID-19 cases. Correlation coefficient with COVID-19 cases and Population Density, Urban Population and Concrete Roof of their house are significant at 1% level of significance.

Introduction

Novel coronavirus (2019-nCov) is wreaking havoc worldwide. As on 15th January 2021, the virus-related disease COVID-19, killed about 2,009,092 human lives, spreading over 273 countries. However, in the macro (even in micro) level, there are spatial variations on its cases and deaths. Data from published epidemiology and virology studies provide evidence of 2019-nCov transmission from infected peoples to others who are in direct contact or close contact through respiratory droplets, or by contact with contaminated objects and surfaces. A recent study shows that the novel coronavirus disease can spread through aerosols and thus the inhalation of particles is a common way to spread the virus (The Hindu, 22nd September, 2020). For the last 12 months, the disease has been spreading at an exponential rate. On 30th January 2020, India reported its first case of COVID-19 in Kerala, which rose to three cases by 3rd February 2020. All the cases were students returning from Wuhan, China. Apart from these, no significant rise in transmission was observed in February. On 4th March 2020, 22 new cases were reported, including 14 infected members of an Italian tourist group. While in West Bengal, India first positive case of coronavirus infection was detected on 17th March 2020 when a student returned from United Kingdom (Anandabazar Patrika, 17th March 2020). As on 15th January 2021, West Bengal has 564,032 number of COVID-19 cases and 10,023 deaths due to it. COVID-19 cases and deaths are highly skewed in the spatial distribution in West Bengal, India. Many researchers have suggested spatial variations of COVID-19 cases and deaths occur due to population density, climate, exposure to malaria, and a weaker strain of the SARS-CoV 2 virus (El-Gendy et al. 2020).

The present paper attempts to investigate the spatial pattern of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the state West Bengal, India with geographical perspective. The paper starts with literature review which shows the gap in the existing COVID-19 (Geographical) studies. A brief comparison with the world as well as India has been made with the study area to understand prevailing burden of COVID-19. Attempt has been made to understand the nature of spatial variations and possible underlying factors therein.

Literature Review

A brief literature review has been made to identify the existing gap in the studies (up to 10th December 2020). The database used for the literature review is PubMed using Endnote X7. The primary ‘keyword’ for the review was “COVID” and the associated terms were ‘India’, ‘West Bengal’ and ‘Factors’. The latest search confirms 76,441 publications with the keyword COVID. 4809 research papers were found using “COVID + India”; 221 with “COVID + India + West Bengal”; and finally, 22 with the key words “COVID + India + West Bengal + Factors”. All these papers have been published in 2020 (Table 1).

Table 1 COVID-19 Literature search

We can broadly classify these 22 papers on eight different thematic aspects (Table 2). For example,

  1. (i)

    RNA structure of the Corona virus (Biswas and Majumder 2020);

  2. (ii)

    ‘Antimicrobial Resistance’ due to use of excessive sanitizers (Bandyopadhyay and Samanta 2020);

  3. (iii)

    Co-Morbidity and its role on COVID-19 fatality; (Das et al. 2020a, b; Saha and Chouhan 2020);

  4. (iv)

    Status on learning system etc. due to lockdown related closure of the educational institutes (Kapasia et al. 2020);

  5. (v)

    Impact of lockdown on reducing pollution load with special emphasis on air and water (Acharya et al. 2020; Bera et al. 2020; Mahato and Ghosh 2020; Mahato et al. 2020; Patel et al. 2020);

  6. (vi)

    Vulnerability, public health including mental health, health risk assessment of the common people, health workers including doctors (Ankita Zaveri and Chouhan 2020; Arora et al. 2020; Chatterjee et al. 2020a, 2020b; Das et al. 2020a, b; Dubey et al. 2020; Ghosh and Sarkar 2020; Ghosh et al. 2020a, b; Kam et al. 2020; Mishra et al. 2020a, b; Murhekar et al. 2020; Podder et al. 2020; Rajarshi et al. 2020; Suri et al. 2020);

  7. (vii)

    Spatial pattern, prediction and Modelling; and

  8. (viii)

    Factors for COVID-19.

Table 2 COVID-19 Literature review

The present study would like to exclude the first six themes, as it is beyond the scope of the present study and we could find a few relevant papers in the final two categories. In these two thematic categories spatial pattern, prediction, modelling, and some identified factors of COVID-19 cases and deaths are available, which are related to the present study.

Spatial pattern, prediction and modelling of COVID-19 in India and West Bengal have been investigated by a few researchers. To investigate the COVID-19 and urban vulnerability, urban to rural transmission processes in India in national level and also at sub-city level vulnerability have been investigated. Vulnerability zones were prepared with the help of Analytical Hierarchical Process. This has helped to categorise the city into low to very high vulnerable zone (Mishra et al. 2020a, b). Resultant lockdown due to COVID-19 and its impact on community mobility in India has been analysed in the COVID-19 Community Mobility Report, 2020. Study figures out mobility trends over time during pre-lockdown and after lockdown periods across different categories of places such as retail and recreation, groceries and pharmacies, parks, transit stations, workplaces, and residential areas (Saha et al. 2020). Population mobility has also been investigated using dynamic model of infected population, considering both intra and inter zone mobilization factors with rate of detection (Ghosh et al. 2020a, b). Use of mathematical model, prediction of COVID-19 infection in India, and correlation analysis of the virus transmission with socio-economic factors have also been investigated. The important socio-economic factors considered in this study are state-wise total population, gender ratio, rural urban ratio, literacy, and GDP. A long-term prediction of cumulative cases, spreadability rate, and pandemic peak of COVID-19 was made for India (Kumar et al. 2020).

Various factors of Corona virus infection, incidence and severity, and transmission have been estimated (Arif and Sengupta 2020; Chakrabarti et al. 2020a, b; Pramanik et al. 2020). Biological and environmental factors helping Corona Virus to stem the incidence and severity—was the key question of the research by Chakrabarti et al. (2020a). They tried cross-immunity, innate immune responses, ACE polymorphism, and viral genetic mutations as important factors of COVID diseases (Chakrabarti et al. 2020a). Chakraborti et al. (2020b) have used machine learning in exploring determinant factors of present pandemic situation. It concluded that the air pollution, migration, economy, and demography were most significant controlling factors (Chakraborti et al. 2020b). Geo-statistical approach has been employed to evaluate the importance of population density on Coronavirus pandemic in the south Indian states (Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Telangana) (Arif and Sengupta 2020). Climatic factors have influences on the magnitude of COVID-19 outbreak. A stochastic model—Tree algorithm shows that average temperature and average relative humidity explain significant variations in COVID-19 transmission across temperate and subtropical regions, whereas in the tropical region, the average diurnal temperature range and temperature seasonality significantly predict the infection outbreak (Pramanik et al. 2020).

We commonly understand that COVID-19 have originated in urban areas and every first case of COVID-19 in any country is found in the city (urban areas). Urbanization determines the population density, and both have relationship with COVID-19 cases. Preventive measures from the Corona virus infection are use of masks, soaps, sanitizers, and proper personal health care. Economic empowerment is directly related to use of these preventive measures. We can understand the economically weaker section or non-working population would be more vulnerable to this disease. Poor housing structures would make the residents more vulnerable to this disease. We understand that forest supplies fresh air and reduces the burden of air pollution. Fresh air may reduce the burden of COVID-19 cases as well.

However, none of these above-mentioned papers have discussed or analysed any possible geographical factors like level of urbanization, presence of forest, poor housing and distance from the urban centre for spatial variations, and modelling of COVID-19 cases. This gives rise to an opportunity to offer a research to fill the gap in considering the geographical factors for the nature and intensity of COVID-19 and its spatial extent.

Hypothesis and Research Questions

It is a general observation that the disease has travelled from Wuhan, China to all over the globe and that every 1st case of COVID-19 infection in any country is found in a city. Similarly, for West Bengal, the first COVID-19 case was recorded in the state capital Kolkata. Therefore, this paper would like to set its hypothesis as the following.

  • Kolkata (big city) is the main source point of the disease. We can assume that with increasing distance from Kolkata, the burden of the disease will be reduced.

  • Population density plays an important role in localization of COVID-19 patients. We understand that the disease is (highly) infectious. It was thought that higher population density would increase the risk of transmission. This is also true that the population density is directly related with the level of urbanization. So, population density and level of urbanization have direct relationship with COVID-19 cases and death.

  • Forest cover influences number of COVID-19 cases—is another hypothesis of the present study. We all know that the presence of a forest always supplies fresh air and reduces the burden of air pollution. Fresh air may reduce the burden of COVID-19 cases as well.

  • Non-working population is at a much higher risk of contacting Corona virus infection. It is well known that the COVID-19 related lockdown jeopardises the livelihood of millions. The non-working population would be at the higher level of vulnerability to Corona virus infection as they would prefer to get food than get the objects necessary for prevention measures (sanitiser, soap, mask etc.). The non-working population may be considered as proxy to economically poor people.

  • People having concrete households would have lower COVID-19 cases. The fundamental assumption is that the people living in the concrete households are richer. They would have higher purchasing power and would be able to take better prevention measures from Corona virus.

Study Area

The state West Bengal situated in the eastern part of the India (Fig. 1) has been selected for the present study. The Government of West Bengal is publishing daily COVID-19 related bulletin and data in its official portal from 5th February 2020 for public use and researches (https://www.wbhealth.gov.in/pages/corona/bulletin). There are large numbers of people (including migrants labours) from West Bengal working all over India and other countries. Most of them have returned to the state during the pandemic period. The returning of the people from other states and countries are well-recorded. The state has recorded a definite starting date of the COVID-19 infection. Geographically and economically, it may be considered as a proxy to India. Any major findings through this research may be considered fit or relevant for the entirety of India.

Fig. 1
figure1

Location of the Study area. Source: Authors’ Calculation and Superimposed on Open Street Map (OSM)

West Bengal covers an area around 88,752 sq. km, with a total population by 91,347,736 according to 2011 Census of India. It has an average decadal population growth rate of 13.84 per cent. The state is extended from the foot of Darjeeling Himalayas in the North to the Bay of Bengal in the South, and from edge of Chhotanagpur high lands in the west to the border of Bangladesh and Assam in the east. Tropical, hot, humid, monsoon type climate prevails in West Bengal. Natural vegetation covers 13.93% of total area of West Bengal. Agriculture is the leading occupation of the people of West Bengal. West Bengal is the land of complex blending of religion, cultures, caste, and languages.

The state is the fourth largest state according to population density of the states of India with 950 persons per sq. km in 2011. West Bengal has very diverse level of urbanization. It varies from 100% urban (Kolkata) to only 8.30% (Bankura) with an average urbanization level at 28.78%. Similarly, population density of the state also varies from 468 persons per sq. km (Purulia) to 24,306 persons per sq. km (Kolkata). Sex ratio of the state is 934 and the overall literacy rate in 2011 is 74.04 per cent.

The state of housing is not very good in West Bengal. Only 28.38% of the total households have concrete roof structure. Gross State Domestic Product for the year 2011–2012(P) is Rs. 323,419.50 Crore with an annual growth during the year 2011–2012(P) being 4.72%. Per Capita Income of the state in 2011–2012 is Rs. 32,164.00, which is lower than the national (India) average of Rs. 38,048.00 (State Domestic Product and District Domestic Product of West Bengal 2013–2014).

Database and Methodology

This paper would like to use only the secondary data. In this new-normal situation, primary survey is not feasible and is not done here. This is important to mention that the COVID-19 related data has been published by Health & Family welfare Department, Government of West Bengal from 4th May 2020. All the analysis on the COVID-19 data were done from 4th May to 15th January 2021.

COVID-19 related data has been collected from websites:

Data on population of India and West Bengal has been collected from—

The COVID-19 data of West Bengal has been compared with the India and World data. A few charts and map have been prepared with respect to the data to interpret and explore the results. This is important to mention that presently there are 23 districts in West Bengal and initially there were few patients from ‘other state’ and a few patients could not tell the name of their place of residence. For the present comparative study, we are using Census of India—2011 data. A few new districts of West Bengal have been created through bifurcation of some existing districts of West Bengal after 2011. For example, the district Burdwan has been bifurcated into Purba Bardhaman and Paschim Bardhaman Districts. To make the data comparable, we merged the bifurcated districts at the 2011 level. As a result, there are 19 districts in total for further analysis.

The processed data has been brought in the Geographical Information System (GIS) for preparation of thematic maps and to have visual impact on the nature and extent of distribution of COVID-19 cases and deaths. QGIS 3.10 has been used in this regard.

Spatial distribution and its variations were estimated using Lorenz Curve. Gini Coefficient has been estimated to show the spatial disparity in COVID-19 distribution in West Bengal.

The paper has considered ‘level of urbanization’, ‘population density’, ‘% of forest cover’, ‘non-working population’, ‘% of concrete households’, and ‘distance from Kolkata’ as geographical factors for evaluating the nature and extent of COVID-19 cases etc. Multiple correlation-coefficient technique has been used to identify any relationships among the factors and COVID-19 cases etc.

Result and Discussion

COVID-19 in West Bengal: a brief comparison

Initiation and spatial spread of COVID-19 started much later in West Bengal than the rest of India and World. As on 15th January 2021, West Bengal has 564,032 number of COVID-19 cases which is 0.618% to the total population of the state. However, the COVID-19 case for India is 0.843% and for world 1.341% to its total population respectively. We can say that the rate of COVID-19 infection in West Bengal is much lower in this case (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2
figure2

Comparative chart of COVID-19 Cases and Deaths (04.05.2020 to 15.01.2021) (WB = West Bengal; I = India and W = World). Source: WHO and Govt. of West Bengal Data; and Authors’ Calculation

The death rate due to COVID-19 in West Bengal is 1.777% which is little higher than the national average of 1.443%. However, the death rate is less in West Bengal than the global average of 2.140% (Table 3).

Table 3 COVID-19 in West Bengal and its comparison with India and World (31.08.2020)

Figure 2 says that the growth curve of the COVID-19 cases in World, India and West Bengal looks very conforming in shape. COVID-19 related death curve is in steady declining mode. There was a sudden peak in the death curve in case of West Bengal in the middle of May 2020. However, the curve became constantly growing with downward trend. The COVID-19 death curve for the world is always in higher position that India and West Bengal. The death curve of West Bengal is always standing in between the World’s and India (Fig. 2).

Growth of COVID-19 cases in West Bengal

It has already been told that the COVID-19 cases started in West Bengal from 17th March 2020. The Health & Family welfare Department, Government of West Bengal has published its data from 4th May 2020 in the website for public access. From then, the COVID-19 cases, data about deaths and recovery has been steadily growing. The growth curve of COVID-19 cases of West Bengal is similar to that of India and the World. It is very interesting and hopeful to observe that the death curve of West Bengal is very flat and certainly not following the curve of total COVID-19 cases (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3
figure3

Total COVID-19 cases; daily changes in COVID-19 cases and deaths in West Bengal (04.05.2020 to 15.01.2021). Source: Authors’ Calculation

During the entire study period, COVID-19 cases have been rising and the maximum new cases recorded (on 22.10.2020) is 4157. Fortunately, there is steady declining trend in the new COVID-19 cases after 22nd October 2020.

The death curve of West Bengal due to COVID-29 is very flat and maximum single day deaths were 81 on 08.06.2020. The second highest single day deaths were 64 on 22.10.2020. After that, the death rate is declining steadily (Fig. 3).

Spatial Distribution of COVID-19 in West Bengal

Spatial variation of the COVID-19 was analysed with the help of Lorenz Curve. The curve shows unevenness in spatial distribution of COVID-19 cases. The Gini Coefficient of the Lorenz Curve is 0.473, which indicates the skewed distribution of the COVID-19 cases in West Bengal. The data shows that out of 19 districts, 17 (90%) districts hold 84.11% of the total population and carry 56.30% of the total COVID-19 cases. However, the remaining two districts—Kolkata and North 24 Parganas—hold remaining 43.70% COVID-19 cases (Table 4 and Fig. 4). In absolute term, total COVID-19 cases in Kolkata is the highest in West Bengal and it is 126421. North 24 Parganas contains 120,042 COVID-19 cases. South 24 Parganas, Haora and Hugli are the next three districts with higher number of COVID-19 cases.

Table 4 Calculation of Lorenz Curve for showing disparity in distribution COVID-19 cases among the districts West Bengal
Fig. 4
figure4

Lorenz Curve sowing Disparity in Spatial Distributin of COVID-19 Cases in West Bengal. Source: Authors’ Calculation and Superimposed on Open Street Map (OSM)

When we compared the total COVID-19 cases per 1000 households, the districts in the list changed their ranks. The top five districts are Kolkata, Darjilling, North 24 Parganas, Haora, and Koch Bihar. COVID-19 cases per 1000 households are 123, 52, 51, 33, and 29 accordingly. Similarly, when we analysed COVID-19 cases per One Million population, Noprth 24 Parganas and Darjilling alter their locations. The top five districts are Kolkata, North 24 Parganas, Darjilling, Haora, and Koch Bihar with 2811, 1199, 1100, 726 and 690 COVID-19 cases per one billion population (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5
figure5

COVID-19 Cases per 1000 Household and 100,000 Population in West Bengal. Source: Authors’ Calculation and Superimposed on Open Street Map (OSM)

Peoples’ death due to COVID-19 is found to be maximum at 3040 (as on 15.01.2021) in Kolkata. The other top four districts are North 24 Parganas, Haora, South 24 Parganas, and Hugli with 2427, 1029, 701, and 479 deaths. However, the list of top five districts with COVID-19 related deaths changes when we see the percentage of deaths to total COVID-19 cases in the districts. Haora, Kolkata, North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas and Hugli are the top five districts. The percentage of deaths due to COVID-19 for these districts are 2.921, 2.405, 2.022, 1.911 and 1.645 respectively. This is really a point of good hope that three districts of West Bengal—Purulia, Bankura, and Koch Bihar are least affected districts in terms of COVID-19 deaths. They have only a total 16, 25 and 56 as number of deaths respectively (Table 5 and Fig. 6).

Table 5 COVID-19 Cases and Deaths in the districts of West Bengal (as on 15.01.2021)
Fig. 6
figure6

Distribution of COVID_19 Deaths in West Bengal. Source: Authors’ Calculation and Superimposed on Open Street Map (OSM)

There are wide spatial variations in the deaths, and a correlations analysis may reveal the underlying factors on the spatial variations in the COVID-19 cases, deaths, and recovery pattern. The correlational study of COVID-19 cases reveals that it is positively related with percentage of Population Density (+ 0.736), Urban Population (+ 0.836), Concrete Roof of their house (+ 0.718), and Non-working Population (0.174). While COVID-19 cases are negatively co-related with percentage of forest cover (-0.118), and Distance from Kolkata (a big metro city) (-0.480) (Table 6 and Fig. 7).

Table 6 Table for Correlation Coefficient among different variables with COVID-19 Cases (15.01.2021)
Fig. 7
figure7

Dependency of COVID-19 cases with different factors. Source: Authors’ Calculation

We understand that the correlation coefficient value remains invalid if it is less than ± 0.25. Therefore, the variables ‘percentage of forest cover’, and ‘non-working population’ are neither very effective nor playing any significant role in COVID-19 cases. Hence, in the further analysis these two factors were not considered.

The ‘P-value’ of the correlation coefficient with COVID-19 cases and all the variables like population density, urban population, concrete roof and distance from Kolkata are significant at 0.32%; 0.02%, 0.25% and 0.14% level of significance (Table 6).

COVID-19 deaths also show similar correlation as was observed in COVID 19 cases. It is positively related with total COVID-19 cases (+ 0.99), population density (+ 0.80), urban population (+ 0.87), concrete roof of their house (+ 0.75), and Non-working Population (0.15). While COVID-19 death is negatively co-related with percentage of Forest Cover (−0.14), and Distance from Kolkata (a big metro city) (−0.50) (Table 6 and Fig. 8).

Fig. 8
figure8

Dependency of COVID-19 Deaths with different Factors. Source: Authors’ Calculation

We understand that the variables ‘percentage of forest cover’ and ‘non-working population’ are not significant as per the result. Secondly, when we evaluate the results with ‘P-value’ of the variables and the COVID-19 deaths are being determined by total COVID-19 cases, population density, % of urban population, concrete roof of their house and distance from Kolkata. The level of significance for each of the variable are 0.00%, 0.03%, 0.08%, 0.22% and 0.11% respectively (Table 7).

Table 7 Table for Correlation Coefficient among different variables with COVID-19 Deaths

Conclusion

Spatial distribution of COVID-19 cases is strongly uneven in West Bengal. Kolkata is clearly the main source point of the disease in West Bengal. 1st COVID-19 case started from Kolkata and the maximum number of patients and deaths until date are recorded here. We can say that the burden of the COVID-19 diseases is much higher in the big city, Kolkata.

Correlation coefficient of various factors with COVID-19 cases and deaths has revealed that ‘level of urbanization’, ‘population density’, ‘concrete roof’, and ‘distance from big city (Kolkata)’ are important factors in the nature and extent of spread of COVID-19 cases and related deaths. We could understand that the cities are most vulnerable locations for Corona virus infection. Detailed study is necessary for understanding micro level variations within the city space to evaluate the role of urban pattern, urban space, and urban morphology on Coronavirus infection.

The preventive measure ‘Lockdown’ or ‘quarantine’ makes every possible economic activity stopped. Therefore, we apprehended that the poor people would be vulnerable to this disease. The most important and surprising result is the good housing condition and COVID-19 cases and deaths are positively related. The main source of urban poor or labour forces are the ‘migratory labours’ from the rural part. The pandemic resulted in a very large-scale counter migration to rural areas from the urban centres. It was thought that the rural areas would be worst hit by the COVID-19 cases. However, the data does not reveal that. Therefore, the future research question arises here on possible sources of immunity from Coronavirus infection to the poor and rural people.

Although the percentage of forest cover has not played any statistically significant role, we should not ignore the basic science that trees are the major absorbent of air pollutants and make air fresh. Human interference in the forest area may be responsible for the emergence of such kinds of diseases. Therefore, proper care and research should be conducted on the role of fresh air and forest to COVID-19 cases.

Finally, the paper would like to conclude that there is sufficient scope to have faith in humanity for survival from this virus. In addition, as under stressful situations, the immune system of human beings is compromised and they become more prone to infections. Yoga based lifestyle (the concept derived from Indian ancient scriptures) can reduce psychological stress, which may have an important role to strengthen the immune system that can prevent associated complications.

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Biswas, B., Roy, R., Roy, T. et al. Geographical Appraisal of COVID-19 in West Bengal, India. GeoJournal (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10708-021-10388-4

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Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • West bengal
  • Geographical factor
  • Urbanization
  • Population density
  • Nonworking population
  • Forest