Unlocking begins: Devotees visit religious places, pray while maintaining distance
More than two months after they were shut, religious places, malls, restaurants, and hotels, reopened today as India took small steps towards unlocking. A strict countrywide lockdown was enforced in March to control the transmission of coronavirus. This morning, devotees reached shrines to offer prayers, while following the guidelines released by the Centre earlier. Malls are ready to welcome customers too. Here's more.
Ironically, India has started easing restrictions at a time when coronavirus cases are witnessing a sharp spike. From June 2, when there were 2 lakh cases, the number of infections rose to 2,57,334 on Sunday. Yesterday, India recorded its biggest ever surge of roughly 10,000 cases. With 85,000 cases, Maharashtra, India's worst-affected state, has more cases than China, where the outbreak started last year.
As far as religious places are concerned, the Centre has restricted prasad distribution, underscored that devotees can't touch idols or religious books, and prohibited large gatherings. At restaurants, only 50% of seating capacity is allowed, and takeaways are favored over dine-in. Separately, malls' gates have been opened only for asymptomatic customers, and authorities are asked to thoroughly clean the premises. Wearing masks is mandatory.
All these relaxations were handed over only in non-containment zones. The hotspots will remain under strict lockdown. This morning, devotees reached shrines to offer prayers. At Delhi's Jhandewalan Temple, a shield, mask, and glove-wearing guard, thermally screened devotees before letting them in. Inside the temple, devotees were seen maintaining distance from one another. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath also visited a temple.
Gorakhpur: Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath offers prayers at Gorakhnath Temple.— ANI UP (@ANINewsUP) June 8, 2020
Government has allowed re-opening of places of worship from today. pic.twitter.com/tugUioZ59h
Similar scenes played out at mosques and gurudwaras. At Lucknow's Eidgah Mosque, believers were screened and they prayed while keeping a distance from one another. At Yahiyaganj Gurudwara of the UP capital, people wore masks. The floor of Khan Market's Shrine of Velankanni was marked to promote distancing. The famed Sai Baba Temple at Lodhi Road and Jama Masjid also reopened today.
The Bangla Sahib Gurudwara of Delhi has decided to keep the sarovar/pool shut but said langar will continue for needy. Defying the government's order, the chief priest said prasad will be distributed. "If the government can allow langar, which involves so much more people-to-people contact, then why to prohibit prasad?" he asked. Some churches of Delhi said they would take 3-4 days more to open.
Despite the UP government letting religious places to open, some shrines in Mathura and Vrindavan have decided to keep gates shut as they oppose the use of alcohol-based sanitizers inside the premises. The shrines which will remain shut include ISKCON and Banke Bihari temples. Ganesh Pehalwan from Govardhan's Mukut Mukharvind shrine said LED screens have been installed outside the premises for devotees.
Separately, the Haryana government on Sunday didn't cap number of people entering malls or religious places but said that "number of entrants should be kept at a minimum to maintain social distancing norms". "At the religious places, hotels, restaurants, and malls, individuals must maintain a distance of 6 feet as far as feasible and use of face masks would be mandatory," the order read.
"Generic preventive measures, including simple public health measures, social distancing, wearing of face covers/masks, would be observed by all workers and visitors in these places at all times. However, religious places, hotels, restaurants, and shopping malls, in containment zones shall remain closed," a spokesperson said.
In Delhi, some malls will be disinfecting the common areas on an hourly basis. Some have installed ultraviolet sterilization chambers to disinfect the patrons' belongings. Harsh Bansal, the director of Vegas Mall in Dwarka, said the staff was asked to report one hour before the mall opens for public. "After the mandatory screening, the employees will be given face-shields, gloves, a sanitizer," he said.
As part of the unlocking phase, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced on Sunday that the city's borders will be unsealed. He had closed the borders last week to save the already overwhelmed healthcare system. Subsequently, this morning, vehicles moved freely at the Delhi-Gurugram border. The area had been witnessing huge traffic jams and a lot of turmoil after Kejriwal's last week's announcement.