Unlock 1: Bengal prepares for new normal with restrictions, less public transport
After two months of lockdown, people in West Bengal are all set to step outdoors on Monday amid restriction and significantly less public vehicles.
Long distance trains, government buses, ferry services, taxis and auto-rickshaws will operate with limited number of passengers, while private bus operators on Sunday said they will remain off the streets as carrying fewer passengers would lead to losses. Buses cannot ply if passengers exceed seating capacity and all people on board must wear masks and gloves.
Local trains and metro services, which carry the maximum number of people in Kolkata and between the state capital and the suburbs, will not run. Taxis, radio taxis and auto-rickshaws have been allowed to ply with only two passengers.
State government offices, which now operate with 50 per cent workforce, will have 70 per cent people from June 8. Private offices, too, can operate from June 8 with managements deciding the size of manpower, said a notification the state issued on Saturday. “However, work from home should be encouraged,” it added.
The lockdown has been extended till June 15 in containment zones but the state has allowed tea and jute industries, along with medium, small and micro industries and construction activities to start from Monday with 100 per cent manpower.
Shopping malls will open on June 8. Amitabh Taneja, chairman, Shopping Centres Association of India (SCAI), said, “We welcome the announcement by the Union ministry of home affairs. SCAI has made a stringent set of standard operating procedure which has been submitted to the MHA as well as the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and other authorities.”
Hotels and restaurants have also been allowed to resume operation from June 8. Owners of restaurants that have bars are, however, in a dilemma as there is no official order to serve liquor. Also, the owners apprehend that few people will come in the evening since the curfew will be in force from 9 pm.
“We welcome the decision. We are working on a standard operating procedure adhering to contactless dining and maintaining social distancing norms,” said Shiladitya Chaudhury, co-founder of Oudh 1590, Chapter 2 and Master Dimsum, three well-known restaurants of Kolkata.
The Mamata Banerjee government had earlier divided the Red Zone into three sub-zones namely, A for affected zone, B for the buffer zone and C for the clean zone. The government has allowed relaxations in Zone–B and Zone-C in the red zones. Strict lockdown will be imposed in Zone–A.
The state has allowed indoor and outdoor activities related to television and cinema production (except for reality shows) with no more than 35 people. People from the industry said they will not start shooting till a guideline is in place.
Cinema halls and multiplexes, however, will remain closed. A prominent exhibitor, Arijit Dutta of Priya Cinema said, “We told the authorities that seats can be kept vacant between patrons to ensure social distancing. If people can travel in auto-rickshaws and buses why can’t cinema halls operate?”
Mamata Banerjee has also announced that places of worship can open from June 1 but no more than 10 people can enter these places and there shall be no religious gatherings or festivals. Interestingly, some of the biggest and most visited temples such as the Kali temples at Dakshineswar and Tarapith will not open for at least 15 days, managing committees of these institutions said. The authorities at Belur Math, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited earlier this year, will also remain closed for at least 15 days till safety arrangements are beefed up.
Mosques too are likely to see fewer people. The West Bengal Imams Association said opening places of worship is not the priority of a government. “Efforts should rather be made to open establishments that affect livelihood of people,” said Mohammad Yahiya, chairman of the association.
A large section of entrepreneurs have, however, welcomed Unlock 1. Fashion designer Snehasish Bhattacharya said Darzee, his studio, will open on Monday. “We will request visitors to restrict their numbers to no more than three at any given time. They must seek appointment prior to a visit. Masks are an absolute must inside the studio,” he said.
“Many hawkers who hail from other states have returned home. Some hawkers have already opened shops and some more will start business on Monday. But given the present scenario I doubt if customers will maintain health guidelines,” said Shaktiman Ghosh, general secretary, National Hawker Federation.
Among the 200 long-distance trains that will start plying across the country, eight pairs will be run from Howrah and Sealdah stations. These include the Kolkata-Amritsar, Howrah-Jodhpur, Howrah-New Delhi and Sealdah-Bhubaneswar special trains. Passengers have to arrive at stations 90 minutes before departure and undergo screening.