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Crowds swell at Kolkata markets ahead of Durga puja amid rising COVID-19 cases in Bengal


KOLKATA: A sea of people has become a common sight at Kolkatas popular shopping destinations days ahead of Durga Puja, as COVID-19 protocols go for a toss with crowds maintaining precious little social distancing and removing masks at will.

"Durga Puja shopping cannot wait, corona or no corona," Rimpa Saha, a young homemaker, shot back when asked about venturing onto packed markets amid the raging pandemic in the city.

Saha and thousands like her thronged marketplaces like Gariahat, New Market, Hatibagan on the last Sunday before Bengals biggest festival begins.

"We are wearing masks and nothing will happen to us. We were stuck at home during the entire duration of the lockdown, but now everything has opened up," added Saha, making her way out of a garments shop on Lindsay Street along with her son.

Amit Saha, a hawker at Hatibagan in north Kolkata, had a ready reply for not wearing masks: "I can't speak to my customers with this thing on my mouth".

"Do you know how we survived all these months? At least, customers have been coming in the past two weeks," Saha, who sells garments on pavements, said.

The scene was no different in suburban markets of Sodpur, Dumdum, Garia and Sonarpur.

"It is not possible to enforce social distancing in an ideal manner during the time of festivals. However, we are regulating entry and providing santisers to every customer," said Dulal Lahiri, owner of a saree shop in Sodpur.

The wave of people on the streets of the metropolis has triggered concern among health experts, who fear mass infection and a second wave of coronavirus.

"We can only hope people will avoid crowding and strictly follow COVID-19 protocols. We have to be aware of the situation." Public health expert Kajal Krishna Banik said.

The COVID-19 death toll in West Bengal went past the 6,000-mark on Sunday with 64 more fatalities, even as a record number of 3,983 fresh cases pushed the tally to 3,21,036, the health department said.