No public observation of festivals or mass gatherings will be permitted in the state during Onam, Muharram, Janmashtami, Ganesh Chathurthi and Durga Pooja as they have the potential to become super spreaders of the COVID-19 infection, the Kerala government said on Tuesday.
The decision was taken by the Disaster Management department of Kerala in view of a Central government alert to all states about the possibility of mass gatherings during these festivals turning into super spreaders of COVID-19 leading to a spike in infections, an order, issued by Chief Secretary VP Joy, said.
The Union Health Ministry has advised all states to actively consider imposing local restrictions in public observation of these festivals and curb mass gatherings, it said.
In view of the central government advice, the Kerala government has decided that “no public observation of festivals or mass gatherings will be permitted during the above mentioned festivals in the State”, the order said.
Besides that from August 12 onwards, special intensified stringent lockdown restrictions will be enforced in the Panchayats or urban wards where the infection spread is critical and the Weekly Infection Population Ratio (WIPR) is above 8.
“Micro-containment and testing shall be intensified in areas where new cases are on the rise,” the order said.
It further said that for Sabarimala pilgrimage and ”darshan” from August 15, a maximum of 15,000 devotees per day would be permitted and virtual queue registration will continue for crowd management.
It also said that those people who have not yet received a single dose of vaccine or do not have a negative RT-PCR test not older than 72 hours or have not been infected by COVID-19 in the past one month can undertake certain essential activities.
An earlier August 4 order of the state government had said that only those persons who have taken at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine before two weeks, or who are in possession of RT-PCR negative certificate taken 72 hours previously or who are in possession of COVID-19 positive results more than a month old, would be allowed inside shops, banks and other establishments.
The latest order clarified that those who are yet to receive COVID-19 vaccination or cannot take the vaccine due to drug allergy or other ailments, can move out of their houses for essential activities like purchase of food items, including grocery, milk, meat, fish etc., if there are no other persons in the household who have been vaccinated or have a negative RT-PCR report.
If such persons are required to visit shops they shall be given priority service by the traders and merchants and local self government institutions shall give special attention to them and ensure home delivery of essential items to them, the order said.
The above clarification assumes significance as a plea has been moved in the Kerala High Court claiming that not allowing people, who do not have at least one dose of vaccine or a negative RT-PCR test, to go to shops amounted to putting them under house arrest.
During hearing of the plea on Tuesday, the high court was initially inclined to permit such people to go out to shop for essential items, but on the request of the state government lawyer for one more day’s time to seek instructions no order was passed.