Schools closed, political parties shun mega poll rallies as COVID cases rise sharply in WB

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(With additional inputs and collating stories) Kolkata, Apr 19 (PTI) The raging COVID-19 crisis cast its long shadow in West Bengal, which is in the midst of its long drawn assembly election, as all schools were ordered on Monday to close early for summer vacation and political parties announced that they would shun mega rallies for the remaining three phases of the poll.

The state reported the highest single-day spike of 8,426 new COVID-19 cases on Monday and 38 people died of the infection in the state, as per the Health Department.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee Monday said her government disfavoured lockdown or night curfew but ordered all government and private offices to function with 50 per cent attendance.

The state government issued a notice this afternoon stating that summer vacation in schools which are aided and run by it will begin early from Tuesday itself in view of rising COVID-19 cases and heatwave sweeping across the state.

The summer break usually starts from the first week of May.

'Classes for 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th standards had resumed from mid-February (in state-aided and state-run schools).

'But due to the present COVID-19 situation, we are forced to prepone the summer vacation. The education department will issue necessary notifications today,' Education Minister Partha Chatterjee said.

West Bengal Board of Secondary Education President Kalyanmoy Ganguly said in a notification that due to 'the heatwave and prevailing situation' summer vacation in the schools affiliated to the board will start from April 20 and continue till further notice.

Banerjee addressing a press conference in Malda urged people not to panic over the worsening COVID-19 situation as the state government is taking 'every possible measure' to check the spread of the disease.

'Night curfew or lockdown may not be a solution in Bengal, where political pollution needs to be checked first,' she said.

The chief minister, however, did not say what she was referring to as 'political pollution'.

Listing the steps taken by the state government to tackle the situation, such as an increase in the number of COVID-19 beds in hospitals, she requested all offices to make do with 50 per cent workforce for now.

'I urge everyone not to panic. We have formed a task force to tackle the COVID-19 surge. We have increased the number of beds, safe homes. We had handled it last time (in 2020) and will do so this time too,' she said.

Banerjee urged the Centre to ensure smooth supply of vaccines and medicines to the state.

'We have demanded more vaccines as there is a severe shortage. The Centre should ensure smooth supply of vaccines, medicines and oxygen cylinders,' she said.

The TMC supremo while addressing an election rally earlier in the day, urged the Election Commission to reconsider its decision to stick to the original poll schedule of eight phases.

She stressed that wrapping up the last three phases of polls on a single day or at the most in two days will check the spread of the pandemic to some extent.

Banerjee declared that henceforth she will not hold any mega poll rally in the city and her public meetings in other parts of the state will be smaller compared to her previous ones.

Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha MP Derek O'Brien tweeted, 'Mamata Banerjee will NOT campaign in Kolkata anymore. Only one 'symbolic' meeting on the last day of campaigning in the city on April 26.' O'Brien also posted on the microblogging site that the CM 'slashes time for all her election rallies in all districts. Restricted to just 30 minutes.' Meanwhile, the BJP, which has been holding practically a poll blitzkrieg, said in a statement that it will not hold any big public meetings anymore to campaign in the state.

The statement said that all its leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address small public meetings with a maximum of 500 people.

BJP said it has decided to stop big public events in West Bengal to break the chain of corona infection.

The decisions by the TMC supremo and the BJP was preceded by a similar stand by CPI-M. The party had declared four days ago that it is against holding big rallies anymore and emphasised on door to door campaign, street corner meetings and use of social media for canvassing.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has also announced to suspend all his election rallies in West Bengal. PTI SUS PNT KK KK KK