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Bengal reports its first COVID-19 death, lockdown begins in

Press Trust of India  |  Kolkata 

The five-day lockdown in vast swathes of West Bengal began on Monday evening, a day when the state recorded its first COVID 19 death, officials said.

The lockdown will last till March 27 midnight.

A 57-year-old man, who had tested positive for the coronavirus last week, was on ventilation. He was among the seven COVID 19 patients in the state.

A resident of Dumdum in the North 24 Parganas district, he died at a private hospital.

Meanwhile, a controversy has erupted over the mans travel history, with his family members claiming he had not gone abroad recently. They said he had only visited Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh this February.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, however, told an all party meeting that the man and his family, currently in the isolation ward of a state-run hospital, had travelled to Italy, which has now emerged as an epicentre of the disease in Europe.

Following his death, Banerjee ordered the authorities to conduct his last rites immediately in order to stop the virus from spreading.

According to health officials, the body of the man will not be handed over to his fanmily and his last rites will be conducted Monday night in accordance with the protocol for deaths from pandemic diseases.

Meanwhile, as the lockdown began in Koklkata and other urban agglomerations, police personnel were seen asking people through public address systems to return to their homes and shopkeepers to shut down.

Motorists on roads were being directed to reach their destinations fast.

The state government has invoked provisions of the Epidemic Disease Act, 1897, to lock down areas under the jurisdiction of Kolkata Municipal Corporation, all municipal towns in North 24 Parganas district besides Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia, West Burdwan, North Dinajpur and Howrah districts.

Tourist destinations of Darjeeling and Kurseong are also under lockdown.

All shops, commercial establishments, offices, factories and workshops shall also shut their operations, a government notification said.

"People are required to stay at home and come out only for basic services. Any congregation of more than seven persons shall be prohibited in public places...violation of the notification will be deemed as a punishable offence," the it said.

Foodgrains, groceries, vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, bread, milk, medical services, home delivery, petrol pumps, pharmacies, the IT sector and banks and ATMs, among others, have been exempted from the purview of the lockdown.

Despite repeated warning by the state government, long queues were seen at markets with people resorting to panic buying. Supplies of essential commodities were affected because of fewer cargo trains, officials said.

Shoppers claimed a 30-50 per cent jump in the prices of fish and vegetables in the markets in and around the city despite the authorities threatening confiscation of commodities being sold at exorbitant prices.

"Most fish and vegetables come to Kolkata from neighbouring districts. With the Railways stopping services from Sunday, the supply line has been affected," Rabindranath Koley, a member of the state government's task force on essential commodities, said.

Earlier in the day, Banerjee wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting him to issue necessary instructions to stop all flights coming to the state as a precautionary measure to contain the spread of novel coronavirus.

Later in the evening, the Union Civil Aviation Ministry said no domestic passenger flight would be allowed to operate in the country from March 25.

Banerjee chaired an all-party meeting at the state secretariat to take stock of the situation.

She asked political parties to keep aside their differences and create awareness among the masses about the pandemic.

She also requested the Centre to make available adequate number of kits for random testing of people suspected stricken by the disease.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, March 23 2020. 20:36 IST