Bengal govt rethinks schools reopening as COVID cases surge

Bengal govt rethinks schools reopening as COVID cases surge

The post-Durga Puja surge in COVID-19 cases in Bengal has put a question mark on the immediate reopening of schools as an alarmed state government decided to tighten restrictions, reinforcing night curfew from Thursday (October 21).

The government was contemplating resuming physical classes in educational institutions every alternate day after the puja vacations, in the first week of November, as the pandemic situation improved. In fact, the finance department had last month sanctioned Rs 109 crore to the education department for the renovation of 6,468 government-run schools to keep them ready for reopening after over one and half years.

Also read: Karnataka schools to reopen for students of classes 1 to 5

The government is now forced to rethink its plan due to a fresh spike in positive cases. “It has asked schools to get back to it after checking on the health status of their students,” said an official of the education department. “Many school authorities have asked the government to not to resume physical classes at this juncture,” the official said.

“We will start inquiring about the health of students and their families after the Lakshmi Puja (October 20),” said Sujoy Biswas, the principal of the Ram Mohan Mission School.

State education minister Bratya Basu said, “Chief Minister (Mamata Banerjee) is keeping a close watch on the situation. She will take a call on reopening of educational institutions after reviewing the COVID scenario.” The department official said the government is particularly worried about the reopening of schools as those below 18 do not have vaccination cover yet.

Also read: Tamil Nadu schools and kindergartens to reopen from November 1

The rethinking has been necessitated as the Covid-19 positivity rate jumped to 2.43 per cent on October 20 from 1.79 per cent on October 1. The deadly virus took nine lives in the state in the past 24 hours and infected 867 people, the highest single-day spike since July 21. In Kolkata, the positivity rate jumped to 3.65 per cent.

The rise in cases has been attributed to the dropping of guards during the Durga Puja festivity that saw people thronging puja pandals, bars, restaurants and shopping malls without the necessary precaution.

The festive buzz could be gauged from the fact that the state earned around Rs 550 crore as excise revenue from liquor sales in the first two weeks of October. Government sources said the West Bengal State Beverages Corporation, the state’s sole distributor of liquor, had sold India Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) and country spirit worth Rs 720 crore between October 1 and 12.

The footfall in all major malls in the state also witnessed a stiff jump during the puja. For instance, the aggregate footfall in the South City, eastern India’s largest mall, was 4.5 lakh between October 10 and 15.

Also read: India’s school system under stress; 11.6 lakh teachers needed

A similar rush was also seen outside puja pandals even as the Calcutta high court had banned the entry of visitors inside pandals and had ordered organisers to put up barricades in front of the puja venues. The police had to put a puja pandal in Kolkata out of bounds to visitors from October 13 as thousands crowded, violating all Covid norms, outside the barricade in front of the 145-foot structure, built on the model of Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

The state government had lifted the 11 pm to 5 am night restrictions with effect from October 10 in view of the Durga Puja. But it has now decided to reinstate the night curb to control the Covid spike. Chief Secretary HK Dwivedi has directed all district magistrates to strictly enforce pandemic related restrictions including all outdoor activities after 11 pm with effect from Thursday (October 21).

The DMs and health officials have been further asked to increase vaccination numbers that dropped during puja days. On Wednesday, 6,58,691 people were administered vaccines. So far, 6,82,07,644 people in the state have received at least one dose of vaccine. Of them, 1,86,69,838 got both the doses.

Health experts are also insisting that the state should also augment testing as the number is abysmally low. Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan emphasized to the state health officials about the need to increase testing, sources said. Only 35, 673 samples were tested on Wednesday.

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