Kolkata: Utter confusion prevailed Tuesday over the West Bengal government’s announcement of bi-weekly lockdown dates for August — which were revised thrice — with the chaos finally ending at around 10 pm with the home department’s tweet.
In six hours, beginning at 4 pm, the Mamata Banerjee administration held two press conferences at state secretariat Nabanna and then posted a tweet — dropping certain dates each time as they coincided with festivals.
Starting with 11 dates in all, the government finally settled for seven dates when the state will have complete lockdown during the month of August, with Banerjee saying this is how “we will create a pattern to break the virus chain”.
Experts, however, termed the lockdown an “eyewash”, which they said will have no effect on the spread of the virus.
How the confusion began?
At the first press conference at Nabanna, which took place at 4 pm, Banerjee said barring 1 August (Saturday) and 15 August (Saturday), the government preferred Saturdays and Sundays to impose the complete lockdown to “minimise economic losses”.
“General lockdown is in force when people can go out by maintaining social distancing rules and wearing masks. But complete lockdown is different. During complete lockdown, no one can come out of their homes,” Banerjee said.
She also said: “For this week, complete lockdown will be imposed on Sunday (2 August) and (then on) Monday (3 August).”
At the press conference, she warned the media to not create “confusion” and listen to the dates carefully. But ironically, confusion began just after this.
Anuj Sharma, Commissioner of Kolkata Police, who was present at the press conference, pointed out that it will be Raksha Bandhan on 3 August. Banerjee then said: “So, how can we have (lockdown on) 2nd and 3rd?”
She then dropped 3 August from the lockdown list, and asked the media to write down the dates clearly to avoid confusion.
So, the final lockdown dates after the first press conference were — 2 August, 5 August, 8 August, 9 August, 16 August, 17 August, 22 August (Ganesh Puja), 23 August, 29 August (Muharram) and 30 August.
But 30 minutes later, she came back to address the media again, saying there were some “technical mistakes” and that the government would refresh the dates.
“We missed Ganesh Puja and Muharram. We perhaps read the calendar wrongly. In fact, all festivities or programmes are not mentioned in calendars. So, two things were brought to our notice and we are rescheduling the dates.”
She then announced nine days for complete lockdown — 2 August, 5 August, 8 August, 9 August, 16 August, 17 August, 23 August, 24 August and 31 August.
The chief minister said these dates should be considered as final.
But five hours later, the state’s home department tweeted, saying that they were “withdrawing complete lockdown announcements for 2 August and 9 August”.
“After announcing the state-wide complete lockdown dates in the state, the government has been receiving requests and appeals from different quarters not to observe state-wide lockdown on certain dates coinciding with festivals and important community occasions,” it posted.
After announcing the state-wide complete lockdown dates in the state the government has been receiving request and appeal from different quarters not to observe state-wide lockdown on certain dates coinciding with festivals and important community occasions(1/2)
— HOME DEPARTMENT – GOVT. OF WEST BENGAL (@HomeBengal) July 28, 2020
So the final lockdown dates now are — 5 August, 8 August, 16 August, 17 August, 23 August, 24 August and 31 August.
Rail, flight operations hit
The confusion over the lockdown dates hit railways and flight rescheduling too.
A senior railways official said they had to revise the train schedule Tuesday evening following the government’s flip-flop over the dates.
“We finalised the schedules and cancellation of rail services after the government sent us the revised dates,” added the official.
Kaushik Bhattacharjee, Director, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata, said there will be no international and domestic flight operations to and from Kolkata on the seven days of the lockdown.
“We informed the airlines after we received the final dates from the state government,” he added.
Experts, however, called the lockdown ill-planned.
“This kind of an interrupted and ill-planned lockdown will have no effect on the spread of the virus. This does not have any scientific justification and is devoid of logic. This is just an eyewash,” senior virologist and public health expert Nemai Bhattacharya told ThePrint.