Buddhist Temple in Kolkata (Photo: Kuntal Chakrabarty/IANS). Image Source: IANS News

New Delhi, June 4 : Places of worship, set to open from June 8 outside containment zones, will not allow entry of senior citizens and other high-risk categories, are urged to have separate entry and exits and touching of idols or holy books will not to be allowed, as per the Standard Operating Procedures issued by the government on Thursday.

In a detailed note for places of worship and religious places, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on Thursday said that all such places will ensure the protocol of social distancing and face masks will be mandatory for gaining entrance.

In its guidelines, the ministry said: "Religious places/places of worship for public in containment zones shall remain closed. Only those outside containment zones will be allowed to open up." As a generic preventive measure, it said that the people above 65 years of age, persons with comorbidities, pregnant woman and children below the age of 10 years are advised to stay at home.

The government, in its 'unlockdown' plan issued on May 30, mentioned that the religious places and places of worship will open from June 8 across the country, after being closed down during the nationwide lockdown to combat the spread of Covid-19.

The Health Ministry said that the religious places were asked to have mandatory hand sanitisation and thermal screening process for the visitors and only allow asymptomatic persons. People with no face masks and face covers should not be allowed entry inside the premises.

The Ministry also asked the religious places to keep the shoes or footwear of visitors outside. "If needed, they should be kept in separate slots for each individual/family by the persons themselves," the ministry said.

"Touching of statues or idols or holy books etc. will not to be allowed," it said.

It further said that if possible, staggering of visitors can be done.

The Ministry also asked the religious places to make seating arrangement in such a way that adequate social distancing is maintained and for air-conditioning or ventilation, the guidelines of CPWD shall be followed which inter alia emphasises that the temperature setting of all air conditioning devices should be in the range of 24-30 degree Celsius.

The ministry clarified that the large gatherings or congregations will continue to remain prohibited and as a potential threat of spread of infection, choir or singing groups should not be allowed and recorded devotional music should be played.

The ministry also asked the people to avoid physical contact while greeting each other and also advised not use common prayer mats. Devotees should bring their own prayer mat or piece of cloth which they may take back with them, it urged.

The ministry also prohibited the use of physical offerings like prasad or distribution or sprinkling of holy water, etc.to be allowed inside the religious place. It, however, allowed the community kitchens or langars at religious places with proper physical distancing norms while preparing and distributing food.

The Ministry also asked the religious places to have proper crowd management in the parking lots and outside the premises.

"Preferably separate entry and exits for visitors shall be organized," the ministry said.

It further said that any shops, stalls, cafeteria etc., outside and within the premises shall follow social distancing norms at all times and specific markings may be made with sufficient distant to manage the queue and ensure social distancing in the premises.

The ministry also asked the religious places to get effective sanitation within the premises with focus on lavatories, hand and foot-washing stations or areas. The ministry also clearly mentioned that spitting should be strictly prohibited in the religious places and installation and use of Aarogya Setu App shall be advised to all.

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