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West Bengal government shuts down schools and colleges and announces restrictions as COVID cases rise exponentially

Published : Jan 02, 2022 20:39 IST T+T-
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People wait to enter Victoria Memorial park on New Year's Day in Kolkata.

Both government offices and private establishments will have to function with 50 per cent employees at a time, and "work from home shall be encouraged as far as possible".

As COVID cases rise exponentially in West Bengal, the State government announced fresh curbs and restrictions. In an order issued on January 2, the government said, "after a review of the current situation of COVID-19 pandemic and the concerns due to high rate of infectivity and multiple cases of a new COVID-19 variant "Omicron", State Executive Committee of West Bengal State Disaster Management Authority recommended to review the current restrictions and relaxations."

According to the order, all academic activities in schools, colleges and universities shall remain closed, and only administrative activities shall be allowed with 50 per cent of employees at a time. Both government offices and private establishments will have to function with 50 per cent employees at a time, and "work from home shall be encouraged as far as possible". The local train service, which is the lifeline for lakhs of commuters living in the suburbs, will have to operate with 50 per cent seating capacity and will be allowed to run only till 7 p.m. The Metro service, however, will run as per usual operational time, but with 50 per cent seating capacity. The government also re-introduced night curfew between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., which it had lifted in the last week of December for Christmas and New Year celebrations. The new restrictions will remain in force till January 15.

While, swimming pools, spas, gyms, beauty parlours, saloons and wellness centers shall remain closed, shopping malls and market complexes will be allowed to function with not more than 50 per cent of the total capacity at a time, and restaurants and bars can operate with 50 per cent of capacity at a time and up to 10 p.m. Cinema halls and theatre halls will also be allowed to function, but with 50 per cent of seating capacity at a time and up to 10 p.m. However, the government has temporarily closed all entertainment parks, zoos, and tourist places.

"Meetings and conferences shall be allowed with a maximum of 200 people at a time or 50 per cent seating capacity of the hall, whichever is lower. Not more than 50 persons at a time shall be allowed for any social, religious and cultural gatherings. Not more than 50 persons shall be allowed for marriage related ceremonies. Not more than 20 persons shall be allowed for funeral/burial services and last rites," the order stated. Earlier the government had announced the suspension of all direct flights from the United Kingdom to Kolkata from January 3 onward.

From December 28 to January 2, the daily COVID cases rose from 752 to 6,153. On January 1, the number of new cases was 4,512, which jumped by 1,641 cases in just 24 hours. The total number of active COVID cases in the State as on January 2, stood at 20,776, and the total death count was 19,789, including the eight persons who lost their lives on that day. In spite of the rise in the number of cases, the fatality rate stood at 1.2 per cent, and the discharge rate at 97.7 per cent. Of the 6,153 cases registered on January 2, Kolkata alone accounted for 3,194 cases, and North 24 Parganas 994 cases. On January 2, the number of samples tested was 38,633, and the positivity rate stood at 15.93 per cent. Just seven days earlier on December 27, the positivity rate stood at a mere 2.52 per cent. The unrestrained merriment and crowding in the streets in the last week of December are being viewed as one of the main reasons for the massive spike in the number of cases.

Chief Secretary H.K. Dwivedi, while announcing the new restrictions, said that though COVID cases were on the rise "there is no reason to panic as the state government has the necessary infrastructure in place to handle the situation". As of January 2, the total number of hospitals dedicated for treating COVID patients stood at 203, including 196 government hospitals, and the total number of COVID beds in the State stood at 23,947. The occupancy rate in the COVID beds stood at 2.14 per cent.

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