Mumbai: Amid protests by the BJP and other religious organisations, the Maharashtra government announced on Friday that all places of worship would reopen from October 7, the first day of Navratri. The Chief Minister’s Office tweeted: “All places of worship will reopen from the first day of Navaratri, October 7, 2021, with the observance of all COVID-19 safety protocols.’’
Thackeray’s nod comes as the second wave of Covid is receding and the state government has undertaken a slew of measures to fortify health infrastructure to combat the possible third wave. “Although the number of Covid patients is currently declining, we need to be more careful. The government is taking due care and gradually relaxing restrictions,” said the CMO.
“Even if religious places are open to devotees, rules of health must be followed there. Covid-appropriate behaviour, including face masks, safe distance, and sanitisation must be followed,’’ the CMO elaborated, adding that it would be the responsibility of the management committees of religious places to ensure that Covid norms were strictly observed.
On the day of the government announcement, 3,286 new Covid cases and 51 deaths with a fatality rate of 2.12 per cent were reported in the state. The recovery rate is at 97.23 per cent while the active cases are 38,491.
The Maha Vikas Aghadi government has been facing protests from the BJP over its non-reopening of temples which had been shut due to the pandemic. The BJP had recently staged a state-wide agitation demanding the reopening of temples. The opposition had claimed that while permit rooms and bars were allowed to open, the government seemed disinclined to allow the reopening of temples.
BJP legislator Atul Bhatkhalkar said the government should have taken the decision much earlier.
SOPs for worship
The state government has released standard operating procedures (SOPs) on preventive measures to check the spread of Covid-19 in religious places/places of worship. Persons above 65 years of age, persons with comorbidities, pregnant women and children below the age of 10 years are advised to stay at home. Individuals must maintain a minimum distance of six feet in public places as much as possible, the use of face covers/masks will be mandatory and spitting will be prohibited.
According to the SOPs issued by Chief Secretary Sitaram Kunte, at the entrance of the religious place/place of worship, there will have to be mandatory hand hygiene and thermal screening provisions and only asymptomatic persons shall be allowed in the premises. Posters/standees on Covid preventive measures will have to be displayed prominently and audio and video clips must be played to spread awareness. Staggering of visitors will have to be done. The number of people allowed inside the premises at any particular time may be decided on factors such as the size of the structure and ventilation, by the trust/board along with the local authorities. Preferably, separate entries and exits for visitors shall be organised.
Proper crowd management in parking lots and outside the premises should be organised by duly following social distancing. Specific markings may be made with sufficient distance to manage queues and ensure social distancing in the premises.
Large gatherings/congregations continue to remain prohibited and touching of statues/idols/holy books will not be allowed. There will be no physical offerings of prasad/distribution or sprinkling of holy water inside religious places.
In case of a suspect or confirmed case in the premises, the trust/board will have to place the ill person in a room or area where they are isolated from others and a mask/face cover should be provided till such time he or she is examined by a doctor. The nearest medical facility should be informed or a call must be made to the state or district helpline. A risk assessment will be undertaken by the designated public health authority and accordingly, further action will be initiated regarding the management of the case, his/her contacts and the need for disinfection. Moreover, disinfection of the premises will have to be carried out if the person is found positive.
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