Kolkata: The city has taken the Durga Puja test for Covid but must wait till at least Lakshmi Puja (October 30) for the results, say experts. And, the outcome is likely to be ‘negative’, they fear.
Even though Kolkata witnessed the most muted Durga Puja in recent memory, crowds did build up at some of the big-draw pandals and safety norms were flouted. It helped, though, that 50% of the idols were immersed by early Tuesday morning. While it has been the practice for most community pujas to wait at least till dadosi to carry out immersions, several big organizers completed the ritual earlier. Nimtala Ghat alone witnessed 450-odd immersions by Dashami midnight.
While the pandals may have been far less crowded this time, even smaller congregations are enough to spread the virus, pointed out doctors. They are also worried about friends and families gathering at homes and restaurants during the four days. They fear Kolkata could witness another surge in numbers post-Lakshmi Puja even as the post-Mahalaya spike shows signs of receding, with Bengal recording its lowest daily case count since October 18 on Tuesday.
“While smaller and sporadic gatherings during the Pujas may have seemed innocuous, they are enough to lead to a spread. If a gathering of 20 people for anjali has even one Covid-positive, he or she could end up infecting a few dozens. Sindur khela, for instance, is quite dangerous. This involves direct contact with hands and the face, which is strictly prohibited now. Unfortunately, it has happened at many places and though fewer people may have participated, it doesn’t take away the risk of many others getting infected indirectly,” said Jain.
“We must wait for a week to gauge the impact of crowding,” said RN Tagore consultant Arindam Biswas.
RN Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences (RTIICS) consultant Arindam Biswas. He added that while pandals remained relatively less crowded, gatherings moved to houses, restaurants and even cars. “These could prove to be dangerous since these are closed, air-conditioned spaces where the virus transmits easily. Masks and social distancing are increasingly being ignored and it was evident during the Pujas,” he said.
Despite strict police enforcement, people started thronging the pandals especially after the weather improved from Ashtami morning. A section of revellers — despite the repeated warnings from doctors and administration — threw caution to the winds and hit the roads. Across a few pandals in Behala and Tollygunge, the cops had to control access repeatedly. The 10-metre no-entry zone outside bigger pandals and 5-metre zone in the smaller ones were enforced by organizers though and police conducted videography of several pandals as proof that the court orders were being followed.
On Nabami, the crowd started swelling from morning. At certain pockets in Chetla, Kumartuli, Behala and Beliaghata, pandal-hopping continued till 2.30 am. Sreebhumi witnessed a “near regular crowd” on the day.
Organisers in north Kolkata said footfall started picking up on Ashtami and was particularly good on Nabami. “During the evenings, the crowd surge would be so high that we feared stepping out of the club. Of course, they were disappointed at being unable to view the Goddess as the pandal was cordoned off,” said Kumartali Sarbajanin Durgotsav general secretary Debashis Bhattacharya.
Saswata Basu, the convener of Hatibagan Sarbojanin Durga Puja committee, said: “We had more than double the number of people outside our pandals on Ashtami evening compared to Sasthi and Saptami. We have had quite a good turnout on Nabami.” Pintu Dasgupta of 66 Pally said till Nabami, it never looked like Puja.
According to the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC), major ghats along the Hooghly saw half the idols being immersed by Tuesday. While Bajekadamtolla ghat (Babughat) recorded 550 immersions, around 500 idols immersed in the adjacent Judges ghat. In the north, the KMC Nimtolla ghat recorded 200 immersions till Tuesday. More than 200 idols were immersed in some of the major ponds across Kolkata.