Guwahati: The Assam government on Wednesday said organisers and volunteers of all puja committees must be inoculated with at least the first dose of vaccine against COVID-19 and preferably with the second jab.
Addressing a press conference here, state Health Minister Keshab Mahanta said as the vaccination drive has gained momentum, and vaccines are available in every district and health block, no excuse will be accepted.
The fresh set of guidelines is for the coming Durga Puja, Lakshmi Puja, Kali Puja and Diwali festivals. Steps are being taken to ensure that people are able to observe the festivals while controlling the COVID-19 spread at the same time, he said.
The vaccination certificate of all puja committee members and those involved in organising the festival has to be submitted with the application for acquiring permission for puja celebration, Mahanta said.
The district administration must carry out a random check of the vaccination status of the organisers and the volunteers and grant permission to the puja committees only if the persons concerned are adequately vaccinated, the minister said while highlighting the guidelines issued for the upcoming festivals.
All the volunteers, priests and puja organisers must get themselves tested for COVID-19 before Puja begins (on Panchami day) and after immersion, even if they are vaccinated.
Devotees attending the events shall be allowed to enter the pandals only after ensuring that they have received at least the first dose of vaccination, with exceptions allowed for those below 18 years.
For ensuring this, sufficient trained volunteers shall be put at the entry points by the organisers who will be supervised by the squads formed by the district administration, Mahanta said.
In case a person is found with suspected COVID-19 symptoms, the matter should be immediately informed to the district administration and the person concerned should be shifted to a Covid testing facility while adequate sanitization measures should be undertaken.
Puja committees must keep an adequate number of vaccinated volunteers inside and outside the pandal to ensure that visitors maintain physical distance, wear masks properly and sanitize their hands.
Volunteers should also sanitize their hands, wear masks/face shields properly and maintain physical distance while interacting with visitors and the rituals must be performed very carefully adhering to COVID norms, in small groups and in a staggered manner.
Volunteers and police staff on duty must ensure continuous movement of people to avoid crowding near all event spots, the minister said.
The event organisers shall seek permission from the administration of the district concerned for organising any event resulting in public gathering, mentioning the number of people likely to attend the proposed event which will enable the authorities to extend all possible support to the organisers for safe celebration of the festival, he said.
The organisers will have to provide masks to visitors who come without it while sanitisers must be kept at the entry gate and the site must be sanitised twice as a strict public health measure, the minister said.
The curfew hours as announced by the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA) must be strictly adhered to, he said.
The inauguration of puja pandal and immersion of Durga idol should be a low-key affair with minimum people attending it by adhering to all COVID norms.
The organisers may explore the possibility of inauguration by virtual mode, he said.
Mahanta urged the organisers to keep the size of the idols small so that many people are not required for the immersion.
Immersion must be planned by the district administration in a staggered manner by allotting specific time to each puja committee.
“Entry with at least one dose of Vaccination only” signages must be put at all entry points and miking should be done at regular intervals by the puja committees to ensure that the devotees are also vaccinated properly.