The Assam government on Saturday urged priests in the state to get themselves tested for COVID-19 before the Durga Puja to ensure that devotees are not infected with the virus. The government has made it mandatory for priests to get tested before the Pujas but in many districts, they are refusing to do so, officials said.
"We have received complaints that priests do not want to get tested but if they do not do so and even if one of them is positive, he will infect so many devotees over four days," Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said at a press conference here. The organisers have pointed out that if the tests are conducted on Panchami (the fifth day when the rituals begin) and a priest is positive, then it will be very difficult to find a replacement.
"If that is a problem, then the priests can be tested before Panchami but they must do it or else the situation may again take a turn for the worse," Sarma said. The minister said the state government has directed that all puja pandals must close its gates by 9.30 pm but on some days, the timings of the rituals associated with the Pujas extend beyond that and on such days, it may remain open.
He said the COVID-19 situation in the state has improved with the decline in both the positivity rate and the number of cases. "We have to be very careful during the Durga Puja and follow diligently the set protocols for the occasion so that the declining trend continues," he said.
"The recovery rate in the state has also improved to over 85 per cent and if we maintain social distancing, wear masks, frequently use sanitisers and follow the protocols during the Durga Puja, then there is not much to fear," he added.