The Bengal Assembly is set to convene on September 9 and 10, with all MLAs to be tested for COVID-19 before being allowed to enter the building.
The MLAs will be tested with Rapit Antigen kits, as opposed to the RT-PCR kits, with the results of each test to be revealed within 30 minutes. Tests will be held on Assembly premises from 10.30 AM on September 8.
In addition to the MLAs, security staff and media persons will also have to take the test before they are allowed to enter.
Once inside further restrictions will apply, Speaker Bimal Chatterjee said Thursday afternoon, including staggered seating to ensure social distancing.
MLAs who are senior citizens will be seated in the main hall, which is located on the ground floor of the House. Others will be seated in the visitor galleries, on the first floor, to ensure social distancing.
Two Trinamool Congress MLAs – Tamonash Ghosh and Samaresh Das – have lost their lives to COVID-19 over the last three months. A number of other MLAs contracted the infection but recovered.
Bengal has reported nearly 1.7 lakh cases of COVID-19 so far, with 3,339 people dying after being infected by the virus. The state currently has 24,445 active cases.
The discharge rate – 83.53 per cent – is higher than the national average. There were 3,297 people discharged on Wednesday, 321 more than the 2,976 new cases.
Last week Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee extended the ongoing general coronavirus lockdown in the state to September 20, with “hard lockdowns” scheduled for September 7, 11 and 12.
However, in a significant relaxation of existing restrictions, a July 6 ban on flights to Kolkata from six metros, including Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai, were partially eased from none to three days a week. The relaxations came into effect on Tuesday.
Covid testing of MLAs before (and, in some cases, during) Assembly sessions have become the norm across India.
This morning the Karnataka Parliamentary Affairs Minister said MLAs and officers attending the session, which starts from September 21, will be tested.
Haryana MLAs were also tested ahead of the start of their Assembly session; three MLAs and a state minister, as well as Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar have tested positive.
Strict rules and restrictions have also been put in place ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament, which is scheduled to start September 14.
Members of both houses will be tested and there will be staggered sitting of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, the centre has said.
The Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) kits to be used to test Bengal MLAs have a high false negativity rate, a problem recognised even by the ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research – the centre’s nodal body in this crisis).
The RT-PCR tests take longer to reveal a result but are widely seen as being significantly more accurate, and have been referred to as the “gold standard” for coronavirus testing.