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COVID-19: Bengal resumes major areas of activity, social-distancing norms thrown to wind

Long queues were seen at many bus and autorickshaw stands as government buses plied with full seat occupancy and autorickshaws with just two passengers.

Published: 02nd June 2020 08:30 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd June 2020 08:30 AM   |  A+A-

Migrants stand in a queue to board a bus to reach their native places during COVID-19 lockdown 5.0 outside Howrah station in Kolkata Monday June 1 2020. (Photo | PTI)

By PTI

KOLKATA: Most areas of activity resumed across West Bengal on Monday as the over-two-month-long lockdown was relaxed, industries and commercial establishments reopened in full strength and shrines threw open their doors.

People in large numbers came out on the streets of Kolkata, practically throwing the social-distancing norms to the wind, while traffic snarls, a common enough feature in the city pre-lockdown, were noticed at many places.

The West Bengal government extended the lockdown in the state up to June 15 on Saturday with further relaxations and specific conditions.

Long queues were seen at many bus and autorickshaw stands as government buses plied with full seat occupancy and autorickshaws with just two passengers.

This coupled with the absence of local trains or Metro services, which are yet to resume, and public transport resulted in a harrowing time for a large number of commuters.

Some buses were plied in a few routes of the city and districts such as Howrah and Hooghly.

State buses were run in 40 city routes and some inter-district routes, officials said.

As a large number of people chose to travel to work by cars or two-wheelers, traffic snarls were noticed on Jessore Road near the airport, at Esplanade, Howrah Bridge and VIP Road, with people standing in long queues for buses and autorickshaws.

Massive traffic jams were also noticed on the arterial BT Road.

In the ferry services across the Hooghly river, which too resumed on Monday, only 40 per cent passengers were allowed on each launch after precautionary checks.

Despite the government allowing full operationalisation of the tea and jute industries, along with the micro, small, medium and large industries, including mining activities, from Monday, most of the industrial units witnessed less people showing up at work than regular days.

The few private offices that reopened also saw very few people turning up.

Government offices, where a 50-per cent staff strength has been allowed on a rotational basis, also witnessed "less-than-normal" attendance, officials said.

The vibrant construction sector, where the government has allowed full operationalisation, has started limping back to normalcy, despite a severe shortage of labourers, who have returned to their native places due to the lockdown.

Although various prominent temples of the city such as the Firangi Kalibari, Thantania Kalibari reopened after a gap of two months, several other famous temples of the state like Kalighat, Dakshineswar, Tarapith remained out of bounds for pilgrims.

The authorities of the closed temples said they would throw open their doors only after ensuring certain safety precautions.

"Unlike in the past, devotees cannot enter the temple anymore only after washing their hands carrying puja materials.

Sanitisation of their whole body is needed and we have to devise a mechanism before we allow them in," Kalighat temple committee spokesperson Kalyan Karmakar told PTI.

Belur Math, the global headquarters of Ramakrishna Math and Mission, also did not open its doors to the devotees.

Chairman of Bengal Imam Association Md Yahia said there was no information about any mosque being thrown open for a limited number of people from Monday, adding that they have sought clarifications regarding the government order on allowing only 10 persons at a time.

Father Dominic Gomes of Archdiocese, Kolkata said the premises of all churches under the order in the city are open with all safety guidelines in place.

The state government's notification on indoor and outdoor activities related to television and cinema production, barring reality-show production, from June 1 failed to evoke much response as producers and artists forums said they need to chalk out logistical plans to start shooting in accordance with the new guidelines within a couple of days.

As the state government has allowed 100 per cent deployment of the workforce in the jute industry from Monday, there was nearly 60 per cent attendance in the first shift.

Sources said it came down to 50 per cent in the second shift and is likely to reduce to 30 to 40 per cent in the night shift as a number of labourers have returned to their native places in Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha.

While the state government has also allowed 100 per cent deployment of the workforce in the tea gardens, the attendance was much higher on Monday compared to the previous days, the sources said.

The construction sector on the other hand reported very little attendance as most of the labourers have returned to their native places in the past few weeks.

"We could not start the construction work due to a lack of labourers. We have asked a labour supply agency to provide us with labourers by next week. Let us see what happens," Dip Mukherjee, owner of a construction company, said.

The Union home secretary had on Saturday said "Unlock-1" would be initiated across the country from June 8, in which the nationwide lockdown from March 25 would be relaxed to a great extent, including the opening of shopping malls, restaurants and religious places, even as strict restrictions would remain in places till June 30 in the COVID-19 containment zones.



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