Masks mandatory, no physical offerings: Maharashtra issues SOP for places of worship opening tomorrow

All the people connected with the religious places, including workers and visitors, have been asked to wear masks and maintain social distancing strictly. Proper disposal of the face covers should be ensured, the guidelines state.

With Maharashtra throwing open the doors of places of worship from Monday, the state government has issued a set of guidelines to ensure minimum Covid-19 risk. The standard operating procedure (SOP) states that only shrines located outside containment zones will be allowed to open, and thermal screening and hand sanitisers will be necessary.

No physical offerings such as ‘prasad’ distribution or sprinkling of holy water will be allowed inside the religious place.

Announcing the reopening of places of worship, which have been shut since April, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Saturday asked people to “strictly follow rules” and ensure discipline. The reopening of places of worship has been a point of contention, with the Opposition as well as the Maharashtra Governor targeting the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government for keeping them shut, despite Central guidelines of June 8 allowing them to be reopened.

The state government has over the past few months been firm on not reopening places of worship, fearing that large gatherings, especially during the festival season, could turn into Covid super-spreaders.

Now, with the government allowing these religious places to open, all the people connected with them, including workers and visitors, have been asked to wear masks and maintain social distancing strictly. Proper disposal of the face covers should be ensured, the guidelines state.

In the SOP, the government has advised people above 65 years of age, those with co-morbidities, pregnant women and children below 10 years of age to stay at home. Spitting should be strictly prohibited, the guidelines said, adding that a penalty should be imposed as a deterrent. Visitors have also been advised to use Aarogya Setu app and preferably take off their shoes in their own vehicle before entering the place of worship.

The religious places have been advised to spread awareness about the preventive measure through posters, audio and video clips. Staggering of the visitors should be done, which will depend on the size of the structure and the ventilation of the place. Social distancing should also be maintained in the parking lot, toilets and eating places. Preferably, there should be separate entry and exit gates to the place.

Any shops, stalls, cafeteria within the premises of the religious place should follow social distancing norms. Even community kitchen, lingers, ‘Ann daan’ on the premises should maintain physical distancing, including during preparation of food.

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