KOLKATA: The city began returning to its normal bustling life on Monday, as shopping malls, restaurants and other businesses reopened as part of 'Unlock 1' after a gap of two and a half months, even as the West Bengal government extended the lockdown with fewer curbs till June 30.
The Mamata Banerjee government, which has allowed places of worship to reopen and full operationalization of jute, tea and construction sectors from June 1, on Monday extended the lockdown, to be implemented strictly in containment zones, till the end of this month.
People came out on streets of Kolkata in large numbers, with many flouting the social-distancing norms, leading to commuting woes in absence of adequate public transport.
A semblance of normalcy returned to government offices as nearly 70 per cent staff reported for duty on Monday.
Around 50 per cent of the more than the 30,000 restaurants and eating joints reopened for the first time since March 23 but reported less than 30 per cent footfall compared to the pre-COVID days.
Announcing the extension of the lockdown from June 15 to June 30, Banerjee urged people to abide by social-distancing norms and other precautionary measures.
"The lockdown is being extended in the state till June 30, with existing relaxations and conditions still in place.
Earlier, we had allowed only ten people at places of worship and social programmes such as a wedding or a funeral, now we have increased it to 25," she said after a meeting of the state cabinet.
Admitting that public transport was not readily available everywhere, Banerjee said around 5,000 buses were out on the roads on Monday.
She also said the unavailability of suburban trains and metro services were causing hardships to many.
Banerjee, however, cautioned people against travelling in crowded buses and said it was better to reach the office late than expose oneself to danger.
According to an official at the state secretariat, rosters have been prepared for employees who would be attending offices on alternate days for now while strictly adhering to social-distancing norms to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Till last week, the government had asked only 50 per cent workforce to attend office.
Most of the malls in the city reopened sans their multiplex and entertainment zones in the first phase of 'Unlock 1' and had enthusiastic response from the visitors.
The management of a majority of the malls said 50-70 per cent shops in them, including those of big brands, have opened.
The average footfall in the shopping complexes was 50-60 per cent of the normal times, Sushil Mohta, the owner of Acropolis Mall and a partner of South City Mall, said.
Malls like the South City, City Centre I and II, Acropolis, Lake Mall threw open their doors, while the Forum Mall will do so next week, their managements said.
The food courts in the malls, which are frequented by youngsters, have also reopened but with a reduced seating capacity.
But the fine dining restaurants in the malls have not opened as alcoholic beverages cannot be served in them as per the lockdown norms.
The city malls which reopened are usually allowing visitors between 11 am and 8 pm and the guidelines and standing operating procedures are being strictly followed.
Those visiting the malls are required to wear masks and wash or sanitise their hands.
Children below 10 years of age and senior citizens above 65 years are not being allowed in as they are considered vulnerable to the coronavirus disease.
The president of Hotels and Restaurants Association of Eastern India, Suresh Poddar, told PTI that though the business on the first day was not good he was hopeful of it catching up in the next few days.