On her way to work every day, 62-year-old Manisha Das constantly tells people, “Why is it below your mouth? Pull up your mask!” Das loves her job. After retiring as a nurse from a government hospital two years ago, she jumped at the chance when asked by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation to work at a local health facility. Earlier, health workers like her would get three weeks off during Durga Puja. This year, things are very different. Das cannot take leave at all from 19 October to 30 November, not even on Sundays.
“We have been working hard for many months now, making many sacrifices. Everyone got leave from work during lockdown. I went to work every single day. What was that for? It’s for the people. So that everyone stays happy and healthy,” she told HuffPost India.
As West Bengal celebrates its biggest festival, medical experts and frontline warriors are fearful about the impact on the state’s coronavirus infections. Over the past few days, waves of people have been thronging markets for last-minute puja shopping, throwing caution to the wind. The state, which has recorded more than 330,000 cases and 6,244 deaths so far, has been reporting thousands of infections each day, with Wednesday setting a new record. Kerala’s worrying example, where infections spiked after the Onam festival, adds to the anxiety. With crucial state elections coming up next year, the Mamata Banerjee government doesn’t want to risk losing votes by placing too many restrictions on people’s movement.
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The Kolkata high court’s order banning visitors’ entry into pandals has come as some relief amidst this. While it has given some leeway on organisers’ entry into pandals and allowed dhakis, or traditional Bengali drummers, around them, this is expected to go some way in controlling crowds.
Health workers such as Das heartily welcome the court order, but many express doubts about whether it will actually be...