Kolkata: The cremation of a 57-year-old man, who was West Bengal’s first COVID-19 fatality, took place Monday midnight after protests by residents who refused to allow the cremation, fearing spread of the highly infectious novel coronavirus.
Police were called in to bring the situation under control as the agitating residents around Nimtala crematorium in north Kolkata locked the crematorium gates and didn’t allow the body to be taken in.
The mob even pelted stones at the police. The cremation finally took place around midnight after a huge police force was called in to disperse the crowd, police officials said.
As many as 16 people, including eight women, were arrested.
An FIR has been lodged under IPC sections for rioting, unlawful assembly, hurting people, endangering people’s lives and property, causing mischief and violating government orders.
Hospital sent body to crematorium
The 57-year-old man, a resident of Dum Dum area of north Kolkata, had tested positive for coronavirus last week.
He died of cardiac arrest at a private hospital Monday afternoon. The man was admitted to the hospital on 19 March with severe respiratory issues and later he tested positive for COVID-19.
His wife and other members of the family were immediately quarantined in the state-run SSKM hospital.
Confirming the death, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee Monday said at Nabanna, the state secretariat, that the man came into contact with some of his Italy-returned family members. Italy is one of the countries worst-hit by the pandemic.
The chief minister Monday instructed Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha to supervise the cremation process and ensure there is no violation of the standard procedure of cremating a coronavirus-positive patient.
There was much delay over the release of the body as there was no relative to take the body for last rites — the man’s wife is in quarantine and the couple’s only son lives in the US. He couldn’t come due to the worldwide lockdown in the wake of the pandemic.
Later, a distant relative fulfilled the procedure related to the release of the body, and the hospital and government officials then sent the body to the crematorium.
Body not allowed to enter crematorium for 2 hours
Police said the body reached the crematorium at around 9.30 pm, but residents protested and didn’t allow cremation for two hours. They demanded that the body be taken away from the crematorium as it might “spread the virus”.
Initially, only police officials from the local police station were present at the spot and they were attacked by the residents, who were armed with sticks and stones.
A huge police force was then rushed to the spot, following which the crowd was dispersed.
Anuj Sharma, Kolkata Police Commissioner, told The Print: “Around 12 (midnight), the man was cremated and the situation was brought under control. Investigation is on.”
Panic and rumours
In the last 24 hours, there have been reports of people spreading panic and rumours.
An employee of a private airline, resident of Thakurpukur area in south Kolkata, posted a video describing how she and her family are being harassed by neighbours, who are spreading rumours that the employee has coronavirus.
When the video went viral on Twitter, Joint Commissioner Of Police (Crime), Kolkata Police, Muralidhar, tweeted, saying the local police station has been asked to help the family.
Police commissioner Sharma also tweeted, saying: “We will take legal action against persons discriminating against such heroes who fight for us.”
Another incident took place in Howrah where a resident, who returned from Indonesia, was not allowed to enter her residence Monday. The situation was brought under control after police intervened.
The woman claimed she went through screening at the airport and followed all other safety protocols.
The Kolkata Police has started a helpline to dispel rumours, and has also been promptly responding to all complaints and grievances.
Second day of lockdown
Tuesday is the second day of lockdown imposed in the state, which came into effect from 5 pm on 23 March and will continue until midnight on 27 March.
On Monday, after a few hours of lockdown, 255 people were arrested for violating restriction orders. They were booked under Section 188 of the IPC, said the police commissioner.
Section 188 of the IPC requires obedience of orders passed by a public servant.