West Bengal schools and colleges shut; offices allowed with 50% workforce

The West Bengal government brought back stricter COVID-related restrictions amid a steep rise in cases, shutting all educational institutions from Monday and allowing offices to operate with a 50 per cent workforce.

At a press conference on Sunday, Chief Secretary HK Dwivedi announced that only essential services will be permitted to operate between 10 pm and 5 am in the state till January 15.

“From tomorrow, all academic activities in schools, colleges and universities will remain closed. Only administrative activities will be permitted with 50 per cent employees at a time,” he said.

Decision on the school board examinations will be taken by the respective boards, he added.

Flights from Mumbai and New Delhi will ply only twice a week, and no flights from the UK will be allowed for the time being, Dwivedi said.

“As a part of the restrictions, flights from these two cities will operate only twice a week — Mondays and Fridays,” he said.

“We have temporarily suspended flights from the UK. For passengers coming in from non-risk countries, we have made rapid antigen tests mandatory. If found positive, the person concerned will have to undergo a RT-PCR test,” Dwivedi said.

However, passengers coming from the UK can land in a different city and take a domestic flight or a train to West Bengal, he clarified.

The chief secretary said that a decision on the ensuing civic polls, scheduled on January 22, in four cities of the state will be taken by the State Election Commission (SEC).

“It’s the responsibility of the SEC and it will not be proper for us to comment on this matter. Let the SEC decide on how to conduct the elections following the COVID-19 protocols,” he said. 

Local trains will be allowed to operate with 50 per cent capacity till 7 pm, while all shopping malls and markets will be allowed to remain open till 10 pm but with half their capacities, he said.

Long-distance trains will operate as per their usual schedule. Metro trains in Kolkata will also operate as per their usual timing but with 50 per cent capacity.

“All government and private offices will function with 50 per cent workforce. Work from home will be encouraged as far as possible,” the official said.

All tourist attractions, including the zoos, will remain closed. Besides, swimming pools, parlours, spas, wellness centres and gyms were told to shut down, he said.

Cinema halls and theatres have been allowed to operate with 50 per cent capacity. Meetings and conferences have been allowed with a maximum of 200 people at a time or 50 per cent capacity of the hall, whichever is lower.

Bars and restaurants were allowed to remain open with 50 per cent capacity till 10 pm, while home delivery of food and other essential products was permitted as per usual operational hours.

Not more than 50 persons will be allowed in weddings, and only 20 persons will be allowed during funeral and burial services, the chief secretary said.

The state government asked the management of industries, factories, mills, tea gardens and other commercial establishments to ensure strict compliance with the guidelines.

The ‘Duare Sarkar’ (government at doorstep) camps, scheduled to start from January 2, were postponed for a month and will begin on February 1, the official said.

Dwivedi also appealed to the various traders’ organisations to ensure regular sanitisation of the markets and enforce compliance with the guidelines.

“Nobody will be allowed in the markets without masks,” he said.

An area with more than five COVID patients will be earmarked as a micro-containment zone, he said.

“There are 11 such micro-containment zones in Kolkata at present,” he said.

Hospitals have been asked to operationalise at least 50 per cent of the institutional quarantine facilities that were existing during the second wave of the pandemic, the chief secretary said.

All government and private hospitals have been advised to review the arrangements for treating COVID patients, and all asymptomatic COVID patients are asked to stay in home isolation, he said.

The government has decided to open safe homes at Gitanjali Stadium, Haj House and Pratidin Bhavan, Dwivedi said.

District administration, police and local authorities shall ensure strict compliance with the directives, the official said.

Stating that there is only 1.5 per cent hospital bed occupancy in West Bengal, Dwivedi urged the people not to panic and follow the guidelines.

“Any violation of the restrictions will be liable to be proceeded against as per the provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and the Indian Penal Code,” he said.

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