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Bengal reports 11 more COVID-19 deaths to take toll to 580; low key Rath Yatra in state 


KOLKATA: Eleven more people succumbed to the COVID-19 in West Bengal on Tuesday, taking the death toll due to the disease to 580, while confirmed coronavirus cases reach 14,728 with 370 fresh infections, a state health department bulletin said.

Nine of the 11 deaths were due to co-morbidities where COVID-19 was incidental, it added. The number of active cases now stand at 4,930.

The discharge rate in West Bengal also improved to 62.58 per cent after 531 patients were relieved from different hospitals in the state.Till Tuesday, a total of 9,218 people have recovered from the disease in the state. Since Monday, 9,423 samples have been tested in West Bengal, the bulletin said.

The annual Rath Yatra was a low-key affair in West Bengal due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with just a handful of devotees visiting the ISKCON temples in Kolkata and Mayapur, and some offering prayers at the Lord Jagannath shrine in Hooghly district.

No chariot was taken out in any part of the state to avoid public gatherings, but priests and devotees performed the rituals, while maintaining social distancing norms, official sources said.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee extended her greetings to the people on the occasion.

"Greetings to all my brothers and sisters on the occasion of the #RathYatra Festival. May the blessings of Lord Jagannath be showered on all, specially during this disturbing time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Jai Jagannath," Banerjee posted on her Twitter handle.

The nine-day festival is usually marked by a procession of chariots, in which the three deities -- Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra -- embark on an annual journey to Gundicha temple and back.

At the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) temple in Kolkata, all rituals were performed on the temple premises, its spokesperson Radharaman Das told PTI.

"Three small chariots, similar to the ones pulled by children, were taken out briefly on the temple compound by the monks, as a symbolic gesture. Every year, idols of the three deities are taken to Maidan area in chariots. This year, all rituals will be performed in the temple," Das said.

Last year, around 4 lakh people had gathered to pull the chariots on city streets, he said.

"We are praying to Lord Jagannath for strength to fight the crisis. People should be able to turn up in large numbers next year on this day," he said.

At the ISKCON Mayapur centre, which also happens to be the global headquarters of the religious order, only a restricted number of followers, along with servitors and monks, were allowed inside the Chandradaya temple.

A makeshift 'Gundicha' temple has been constructed on the premises, where idols of the three deities will be kept for eight days.

Devotees will be given permission to offer prayers, only after screening and proper sanitisation, ISKCON Mayapur spokesman Subrata Das said.

"As part of our 'Mercy on Wheels' initiative, people can watch the observance of rituals online by logging on to our website," the spokesperson said.

The chariot festival, which is marked by traditional feasts and commemoration in Mahesh, in Hooghly district -- home to the 624-year-old Jagannath temple -- was also observed without any pomp and show.

"Three shaligram shila (seashell stones representing the deities inside the temple) were taken along the usual rath yatra route to a distance of one kilometre and kept there."

"The chariot at the shrine will be illuminated for the next eight days," Piyal Adhikary, the working secretary and managing 'sevayat' of the temple committee in Mahesh, said.

The centuries-old Tarapith Temple, one of the shakti peeths, in Birbhum district reopened its doors to devotees on the occasion, having taken care of all safety protocols.

"Not more than 10 devotees will be allowed inside the temple at a time. Each of them will have to pass through three sanitation tunnels," a temple spokesperson said.