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Though Bengal is yet to record any confirmed cases of Covid-19 — all 52 samples tested so far have returned negative while 3,238 people are under home surveillance — the government decided to join the Centre and other states in further fortifying the protective shield.
“In view of the evolving situation on the spread of Covid-19, the advisories issued by WHO, UN and central government and as a matter of abundant precaution to check its spread in West Bengal, it has been decided that all government, government-aided, private education institutions including schools, colleges, universities and madrasahs will remain closed from March 16 up to March 31. While internal examinations will be suspended, board examinations will continue as per schedule,” a release issued by the CM’s office stated.
Calcutta University put on hold all examinations after the announcement while Jadavpur University and Presidency said their administrative offices will remain open. Presidency also shut down the hostels. IIT Kharagpur and IIEST Shibpur, which announced closure on Friday, will hold online classes. All seminars, conferences, workshops and tours have also been postponed. IIM Calcutta, which has already deferred its convocation, may hold online interviews of shortlisted candidates for admission to the 2020-22 academic session.
A state education department official said the decision is unlikely to inconvenience younger students as most schools have already finished annual examinations and the new academic session is yet to begin. “If required, additional classes can be held later,” he added.
Later in an interview to a television channel, the CM said the measures are precautionary in nature. “We are blessed that no one has tested positive yet. There is no need to panic. But it also does not mean we should let our guard down. Bengal shares the boundary with three countries. There is no room for complacency. The decision to suspend classes is to avoid big gatherings that can accelerate the process of infection should it arrive here,” the CM said.
The CM also said the state had set up two quarantine facilities that could accommodate 300-400 patients should the need arise. “We have started opening isolation wards in districts. Doctors and all government agencies are working overtime to keep us safe,” Banerjee said.
On Saturday, the state chief secretary, home secretary and DGP apprised the Union health secretary of measures taken by the state to combat an outbreak.
Even before the CM’s directive, several schools had started taking measures to tide over the rapidly-changing developments. Both Lakshmipat Singhania Academy and South City International School had decided to distribute results of the annual exam through email. “We do not want any gathering on school premises hence all parent-teacher meetings stand cancelled. We shall distribute the results on email,” South City International School principal John Bagul said. Even school competitions were called off.
Others, including the La Martiniere, Loreto and DPS schools, responded to the CM’s announcements with circulars that announced the closure till March 31 instead of fresh classes after the term break. “All classes and other pre-scheduled programmes will remain suspended till March 31 as a preventive measure against Covid-19. The new session will start from April 1,” said an official of DPS Ruby Park which was scheduled to begin new session from March 19.
For some schools, though, the order will mean suspension of the annual exams midway. “Since we are a boarding school, it will be difficult to reschedule the exams after March. We are still trying to work out a solution,” said Aditi Mukherjee, principal of GEMS Academia International School.
There is also confusion over attendance of teachers and staff. “There is no clarity if staff and teachers will have to attend schools and colleges,” said a teachers’ body member. St Xavier’s College, though, made it clear in its notice that while the college would be shut, all offices would stay open.