Center warns states on masses gatherings

The states have been asked to review and strengthen the disease surveillance system during the religious event/yatra

NEW DELHI: Ahead of festive season, the Center has asked states and Union Territories to ensure that people taking part in mass gatherings and undertaking pilgrimage are asymptomatic and preferably fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

In a letter to states and UTs on Tuesday, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said mass gatherings in context of various festivities as well as yatras are likely to be held in different parts of the country in the coming months, and that such congregations may potentially facilitate transmission of infectious diseases, including Covid-19.

While the trajectory of Covid-19 cases has declined significantly from levels that were observed in the earlier part of this year, a few states and UTs across the country are witnessing a sustained upswing in the cases currently.

In the last 24 hours, India recorded 11,793 new coronavirus infections, pushing the country’s tally to 4,34,18,839, while the active cases rose to 96,700. The death toll climbed to 5,25,047 with 27 new fatalities — 13 from Kerala, five from Maharashtra, three each from Delhi and Punjab and one each from Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram and Uttarakhand – reported in the same time span.

The active Covid cases comprise 0.22 per cent of the total infections. The national Covid-19 recovery rate was recorded at 98.57 per cent. There has been an increase of 2,280 cases in the active Covid-19 case count in a span of 24 hours.

The daily positivity rate was recorded at 2.49 per cent, while the weekly positivity rate stood at 3.36 per cent. The number of people who have recuperated from the disease surged to 4,27,97,092, while the case fatality rate was 1.21 per cent. As per the health ministry data, over 197.31 crore doses of vaccine have been administered in the country so far under the nationwide Covid-19 inoculation drive.

In the letter, Mr Bhushan said: “During many such events/yatras lakhs of individuals undertaking intra- and inter-state journey spanning hundreds of kilometres with halting points arranged by volunteers and community-based social/religious organisations. Such congregations may potentially facilitate transmission of infectious diseases, including Covid-19.”

Mr Bhushan said : “All states and UTs where such mass gatherings/yatras are proposed to be held should be widely publicise that all individuals planning to participate in such gatherings/events are asymptomatic and preferably fully vaccinated against Covid-19. If need be a special drive for primary vaccination and precaution dose administration to all eligible people may be taken by the administration at least a fortnight in advance for those planning to join.”

The Amarnath pilgrimage begins on June 30 and the Rath Yatra is scheduled for July 1. The letter said it was essential that the gains made so far by collaborative efforts of central and state governments are not lost and timely necessary public health steps are taken to minimise the risk of increased Covid-19 transmission. Accordingly, there is a need to enhance focus on five-fold strategy of test, track, treat, vaccination and adherence to Covid-19-appropriate behaviour. Further, adequate publicity and arrangement for testing should be done across multiple locations.

Mr Bhushan underlined that public meetings, prayers, seating and lodging arrangements on the route and halting points should be made in outdoor or well-ventilated areas with provision of thermal screening and hand washing. He highlighted that healthcare workers, other frontline workers, volunteers engaged during such events by states and district administrations and organisers of such events should be asymptomatic and preferably fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

The letter said additional precautions need to be taken by elderly persons and those with co morbidities (like diabetes, hypertension, chronic lung/liver/kidney disease etc.) planning to participate in such events. “They need to consult their treating doctor and continue taking their medications throughout the period while closely monitoring their health.”

Mr Bhushan said that in events like religious yatras, where en-route congregation points are expected, the state governments concerned should identify major routes expected to be taken by individuals and organization requirement health facilities on these routes. State and district health administrations have also been asked to maintain a close watch over occurrence of isolated/cluster of new Covid-19 cases and take prompt public health measures accordingly.

The letter said: “State government shall review and strengthen existing hospital bed capacities, including human resource, drugs, oxygen, equipment etc. as well as an ambulance and referral systems while keeping close watch over hospitalization rates.”

It stated that state governments should identify and coordinate with volunteer organizations and community-based organizations participating in the events at various halting points and in the destination city/district to promote adherence to Covid-19-appropriate behavior (sufficient physical distancing, use of mask/ face covers, hand hygiene, and respiratory hygiene).

Organising agencies in collaboration with concerned district authorities shall make at provision for regular cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces (handrails, queue barricades, seats, benches, washrooms etc.) at main destination as well as halting places throughout the route.

The letter said that every effort shall be required to be made by concerned district administration as well as event organizers to raise community awareness through appropriate IEC materials at prominent locations at main destination as well as at halting places throughout the route. “Similar provisions for display of helpline numbers at prominent places shall also be made.”

The states have been asked to review and strengthen the disease surveillance system during the event/yatra as an extension of Integrated Disease Surveillance Program (IDSP) for epidemic prone diseases with focus on Covid-19. These critical elements and interventions need to be disseminated and implemented right up to ground level, so that we are able to maintain the gains made in respect of Covid-19 prevention and management.


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