Temples and other places of worship will reopen in Maharashtra on Monday, the state government has said. It announced that it would soon issue coronavirus safety measures that the citizens would have to follow.
The Maharashtra government had ordered the shutting down of religious places in the state, as did most other states, in March. The opposition BJP mounted a campaign to have them reopened, backed by Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari. Last week, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray had said places of worship would re-open soon as he wished people for Diwali.
Thackeray confirmed that schools were set to resume (for Classes 9 to 12) after Diwali, with safety protocols already in place for this.
The chief minister said he had held out on reopening the places of worship such as temples, mosques, churches, gurudwaras, synagogues, pagodas, etc because of the risk to senior citizens who visit them. Medical experts believe elderly people (those above 60) are at a greater risk of contracting the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
“When will temples open? They will open soon. After Diwali, we will create SOPs for this. Elderly people visit temples and they are at risk (of contracting Covid-19). Therefore overcrowding needs to be avoided… be it temples, masjids or any other place,” Thackeray said.
The chief minister said that although his government would release the standard operating procedures (SOP) later, the wearing of face masks while visiting temples, mosques, churches, etc in the state would be compulsory. He warned that people found without face masks would be fined.
“People are criticising me. I’m ready to face that. I’m cautious for senior citizens. If one Covid-positive person is without a mask, he can infect 400 others… these are doctor’s figures,” he said.
The re-opening of temples in the state had triggered a caustic row between Thackeray and Governor Koshyari early last month. The governor, in a sarcastic tenor, asked the chief minister through a letter if he had “turned secular”.
The chief minister retorted that his Hindutva did not require a certificate of authenticity and that the government would only take a decision on this matter after “careful consideration”.
The chief minister and several other leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, have stressed on the need to minimise contact and maximise social distancing during the festivals, to ensure the virus does not spread.
Maharashtra has logged over 17.4 lakh cases since the pandemic began, with nearly 46,000 of those cases resulting in deaths. However, the number of active cases in the state has dropped to 85,000, with over 16 lakh people recovered from the infection.