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Saturday 11 July 2020

Bengal to open malls, eateries, offices in ‘unaffected areas’ on 1 June

The West Bengal government is allowing religious gatherings 1 June onwards too, much as Muslims never respected the lockdown all these days

The West Bengal government today said it would extend the lockdown till 15 June only in the “affected areas” within containment zones while it will relax the restrictions in all other areas, hours after the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) extended the nationwide lockdown till 30 June and issued guidelines for this duration.

The West Bengal government is relaxing business rules for shopping malls and restaurants and also allowing the film industry to start shooting 1 June onwards. All offices and industrial activities are, therefore, expected to resume with 100% workforce beyond the “containment areas” that day.

The Mamata Banerjee government had earlier divided the containment zones into three areas: A for affected areas, B for buffer zones and C for infection-free areas. From 1 June, the state government will enforce lockdown only in Zone A. Zones B and C will have relaxed rules.

The West Bengal government has found a convenient albeit dangerous way to make this classification. Here, the area of a polling booth is a zone! Which is to say that a certain area is Zone A, B or C not necessarily on the basis of how many residents in the area are infected. “It is necessary to continue to implement the lockdown in the affected areas (containment zones) to contain the spread of COVID-19 and simultaneously open up activities in other areas for socio-economic revival,” the government notification issued by the chief secretary said today.

According to the order, the state is imposing strict lockdown in the “affected areas” with no relaxations. It is relaxing the rules in containment zones B and C 1 June onwards. In these two zones, tea gardens, jute mills, micro, small, medium and large industries and construction sites can bring in 100% of their respective workforces.

Since the MHA has permitted intra-state movement of government and private buses with passengers not more than the seating capacity of the bus, that was not an issue for the West Bengal government anyway. It will only ensure that no passenger travels standing and all passengers wear masks and gloves.

While the MHA has allowed the resumption of group religious activities from 8 June, Bengal has betrayed impatience here too, allowing the activity 1 June onwards with not more than 10 people gathering at a time. In any case, images and videos of Muslims attending mass prayers with impunity have arrived from Bengal throughout the period of lockdown.

The West Bengal government is allowing also indoor and outdoor activities related to TV and cinema production, except for reality shows, including those for web-portal and OTT platforms, with not more than 35 people per unit at a time from 1 June. It will allow restaurants and shopping malls to open 1 June onwards too.

Curiously, however, government offices will function with 70% of the workforce on a rotational basis. While the state government said it encouraged private offices to adopt work from home, the companies have the autonomy to decide the number of staff in offices.

“Norms of social distancing and health hygiene protocol must be strictly followed,” the West Bengal government order said.

“Management committees, trustee boards, governing bodies, and owners and private institutions, organisations and establishments shall be responsible for compliance of the stated norms and guidelines,” the notification said.

The notification also said that any violation in compliance of norms of social distancing, health protocol and wearing of masks may lead to withdrawal of relaxations and also attract penal action.

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