Full lockdown on seven days in August
August will have seven days of complete lockdown in Bengal, and the daily restrictions in the state have been extended till August 31, the Mamata Banerjee government announced on Tuesday.
For August, the dates of complete lockdown will be 5, 8, 16, 17, 23, 24 and 31. Religious occasions and days of national importance have prompted the state government to opt for a one-day, instead of a two-day, lockdown in some of the weeks next month.
Schools and colleges in the state will remain closed at least until August 31 and, “if the situation improves in August”, the state government hopes to reopen the institutions on alternate days in September, chief minister Mamata Banerjee said.
The state government announced the full month’s lockdown roster at one go, addressing previous concerns flagged by plane passengers and airlines that will be able to plan better now. Flights are no longer allowed in the state on the days of complete lockdown.
The new schedule means the last day of the complete lockdown in the current month will fall on July 29 (Wednesday), limiting the total lockdown to one day in the ongoing week.
“We were supposed to announce yesterday (Monday), but we couldn’t because of the Prime Minister’s event…. The lockdown in Bengal, we are continuing with (it) till August 31. It was in force till July 31, anyway, (and) we will continue with that for another month. The daily lockdown, everywhere, through the night… that goes on as usual,” chief minister Mamata Banerjee said.
“The complete lockdown, meaning a total lockdown, we have decided that will be twice a week, two days in a row… we will break the chain till August 31.”
Only essential services are being allowed to function on the days of complete lockdown, and the personnel needed for such work are being permitted to commute in private vehicles as well as those run by their establishments. Medicine shops and stand-alone shops selling daily essentials can operate.
On Tuesday, Mamata said the government would have preferred every Saturday and Sunday to be put under complete lockdown.
But that was not possible in August because of several religious occasions and days of national importance, such as Id-ul-Zoha, Raksha Bandhan, Independence Day, Ganesh Chaturthi and Muharram.
“We are favouring weekends for this because a lot of people have holidays then anyway, and there is less impact on the economic situation. They can do the purchases and sales earlier,” she added.
“The days cannot remain the same because there are some programmes,” said the chief minister who had to hold a second news conference in less than an hour with changed dates after it was found that Ganesh Chaturthi and Muharram had been included in the first list of lockdown days.
Later, two days were withdrawn from the list of nine days. This followed requests and appeals from different quarters “not to observe state-wide lockdown on certain dates coinciding with festivals and important community occasions” the home department said at night.
“Respecting the sentiments of the people we are withdrawing the complete lockdown announcement for 2 August and 9 August,” the department added.
Sources in the state government said there would be no alternative dates in place of the two and there would now be seven days – instead of nine – of complete lockdown in August.
The reconsideration, a source said, took place in the wake of inputs that some rituals had to be observed on August 2, after Id-ul-Zoha on August 1. August 9 is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, which is observed by tribal people.
“In keeping with the uncompromisingly pluralistic and inclusive stand of this government, those two dates have been dropped from the list,” said the source.
Sources in the administration said Bengal wanted to follow the model of Odisha, where weekend lockdowns have been in place since Unlock 2 began on July 1.
“Odisha did it in only 10 (of its 30) districts deemed critical. We are doing it across the state,” said an official.
As of Tuesday, Odisha had 10,544 active Covid-19 positive cases while Bengal had 19,493. Odisha’s total case count is only 28,107, compared to Bengal’s 62,964.
“Both the states had to deal with the return of a tidal wave of migrant workers, and the growth rates of Covid-19-positive persons were almost similar till the end of June. However, it now appears that the weekend lockdown strategy has helped Odisha contain the outbreak to an extent through July,” said a source.
Another official said the complete lockdown on Sundays was expected to help break the chain of spread as markets in Bengal have been getting “menacingly” overcrowded on those days.