As Covid infections rose nearly 12-fold in just seven days, the West Bengal government brought back stricter curbs on Sunday shutting all educational institutions from Monday and restricting flights from the country's capital Delhi and financial capital Mumbai besides asking all offices to operate with a half their workforce.
At a press conference on Sunday afternoon, 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 and flights from the Mumbai and New Delhi, which have both reported a large numbers of infections will ply only twice a week in view of the rising number of Covid cases.
West Bengal, which witnessed a sudden spurt in Covid-19 cases with a near 12-fold rise in the last seven days, on Sunday reported 6,153 new infections, 1,641 more than the previous day, with Kolkata accounting for 3,194 new cases, a health bulletin released by the state government said.
Dwivedi said starting January 5, flights from the two metropolises will be allowed only on Mondays and Fridays till a decision is taken reviewing the pandemic situation.
The state government had earlier announced that flights from the UK will not be allowed for the time being.
"As part of the restrictions, flights from these two cities will operate only twice a week -- Mondays and Fridays," he said.
Last week, in a letter to the Civil aviation ministry, the state government had said it is suspending all direct flights from the UK and those emanating from other high-risk countries from January 3. The state government had also announced a mandatory COVID test for all international travelers from non-at risk countries.
"We have temporarily suspended flights from the UK. We have made rapid antigen tests mandatory for passengers coming in from non-risk countries. If found positive, the person concerned will have to undergo an RT-PCR test," Dwivedi said.
However, he clarified that passengers coming from the UK can land in a different city and take a domestic flight or a train to West Bengal.
He added that the respective boards will decide on school board examination dates.
"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.
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.
"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 centers and gyms were ordered 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.
The chief secretary said that no more than 50 persons will be allowed in a wedding, and only 20 persons will be allowed during funeral and burial services.
Meanwhile uncertainty loomed large over upcoming polls in the four municipal corporations in West Bengal, as both political parties and the State Election Commission (SEC) are undecided whether they should be held on the scheduled date of January 22 or postponed.
The chief secretary said that a decision on the ensuing civic polls, scheduled on January 22, in four cities of the state would 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.
Reacting to the development, State Election Commissioner Sourav Das said he is not in a position to comment on whether to go ahead with the scheduled date or put off the polling for the time being.
"I can't comment on it as of now. I will have to discuss the matter with the state government and then take a call," Das said.
The chief secretary also announced that 'Duare Sarkar' (government at doorstep) camps, scheduled to start from January 2, have been postponed for a month and will begin on February 1, the official said.
He said that an area with more than five Covid patients will be earmarked as a micro-containment zone.
"There are 11 such micro-containment zones in Kolkata at present," he said.
The chief secretary said that hospitals have been asked to operationalise at least half the institutional quarantine facilities that existed during the second wave of the pandemic.
He said that 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.
Dwivedi said that the government has decided to open safe homes at Gitanjali Stadium, Haj House and Pratidin Bhavan.
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.
The state presently has 16 cases of the omicron variant.