In the wake of reports of coronavirus infections spreading rapidly during the third and fourth weeks, the state government stepped up its defence with chief minister Mamata Banerjee announcing the closure of educational institutions till 15 April. On Saturday, the state government had announced that the schools would remain closed till 31 March. However, as a precautionary measure the state government decided to extend it for another 15 days.

Miss Banerjee said that even ICDS would be closed till 15 April and two kg of rice and potatoes would be sent to the children directly so that the meals can be cooked at home. Teachers of all educational institutions will work from home during this period. She urged auditoriums, theatres and reality shows to remain closed till 31 March and set up a Rs 200-crore fund to procure protective equipment to tackle the outbreak.

The state government has further decided to invoke Epidemic Act 1897, an Act to provide for the prevention of the spread of “dangerous epidemic diseases,” to combat the virus. “The decision was taken after 10 people from North 24 Parganas who were kept in isolation wards were reluctant to undergo treatment. The Act will be used so that people cooperate with the government to conduct treatment. We are not misusing it for any other purpose,” she said.

“Till now, 3,24,000 people have been screened among whom over 5,000 people are under watch. Our recent report states that we tested 59 people but 58 were tested negative while the report of one person is yet to arrive. Our aim is to ensure that we take the necessary precautions so that the virus does not spread. Please do not panic or pay heed to rumours. Please do not hide the disease.

There is nothing to feel ashamed about it,” said Miss Banerjee after a high-level meeting in Nabanna. Responding to newspersons on the scarcity of masks and hand-sanitisers, Miss Banerjee said that enforcement officials will act against hoarders. The 200-crore fund that has been set up to tackle the outbreak will be used for procuring two lakh personal protection equipment and N95 masks respectively, 10,000 thermo guns and 300 ventilators, she said, adding that the state has requested the Centre to send more test kits.

Miss Banerjee further announced an Rs five lakh insurance coverage for around 10 lakh people whose jobs involve health hazards, namely those who are working in isolation wards. She requested religious leaders to consider the Centre’s advisory on restricting mass gatherings and congratulated Belur Math authorities for their decision to do away with such gathering and ‘bhog distribution’ for the time being.

In Bengal, all melas would remain suspended for the time being, she said. Miss Banerjee said that hand sanitisers would be kept at all the departments. She requested Railways to increase the frequency of trains to avoid overcrowding.