No choir singing, touching of idols: Maharashtra issues SOPs as places of worship set to reopen

All religious places across Maharashtra will be allowed to open from November 16, according to a state government order on Saturday. These places of worship will open seven months after they were closed due to the lockdown imposed to check the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

However, chief minister Uddhav Thackeray urged people to continue adherence to the Covid-19 protocol. “We can’t forget that the demon coronavirus is still amongst us. Even though this demon is slowly falling silent now, we cannot be complacent. Citizens need to follow discipline,” he said.

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The reopening comes amid criticism for keeping the religious places closed even as unlocking began in June. However, the decision was defended by Thackeray, saying that it was difficult to follow physical distancing at the places of worship.

Here is the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) mandated by the state government:

– Religious places located out of Covid-19 containment zones will be only allowed to remain open. The timings will be decided by the local authorities.

– Only asymptomatic people will be allowed inside places of worship. The devotees will be allowed to enter places of worship in a staggered manner.

– Wearing a face-mask is mandatory and the visitors are required to strictly follow the social distancing norms.

– Shoes will have to keep outside the premises.

– The management is required to conduct thermal scanning and provide visitors with hand wash facility or sanitiser.

– Touching statues, holy books, idols is prohibited under the guidelines. Large gatherings continue to remain prohibited.

– As per state authorities’ assessment, local administration can further add any directions to these guidelines which will help in preventing the spread of Covid-19.

– Only recorded devotional music will be played. Choir or singing groups are not allowed.

– Common prayer mats should be requested to be avoided. Devotees are asked to bring their own prayer mats or pieces of cloth, can then be taken back with them.

– The physical offering of ‘prasad’, distribution or sprinkling of holy water is not allowed.

– Floors at places of worship should be cleaned multiple times in a day, and community kitchens and langars should follow physical distancing.

– Effective sanitisation of the premises should be done with a particular focus on lavatories, and hand and foot washing stations.

– Workers at places of worship will have to undergo pre-joining and weekly Covid-19 tests for highly exposed groups.

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