Devotees throng in thousands at the Purani Tangla Habigaon in Tangla, Assam, during puja in 2019

Guwahati: State health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma laid down the precautions and safety guidelines for the celebration of Durga Puja amidst the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday.

Sarma informed that members of each puja committee all over the state including the priests will have to undergo mandatory testing for COVID-19, a day before the beginning of festivities and also at the end of the 4-day event.

State health minister said that pillion riding will be allowed only for women, wearing of masks will be compulsory for everyone present at the pandals and sanitizers will also be placed in each of the venues.

Restaurants and eateries will be not be allowed to open after 9 pm during the puja days.

Only 50 people would be allowed inside the pandal at a time. There would be separate routes for entry and exit for pandal-hoppers to reduce commotion.

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In light of the coronavirus outbreak, no puja committee will be allowed to hold cultural function.

Speaking about the ritual of immersing the idol on the last day of the puja, known as “Bhasani”, Sarma said that this year immersions will be allowed in a sequential order and mass gatherings are strictly prohibited.

Usually during “Bhasani”, the idol is accompanied by a large gathering who carries the idol to nearest water body. However, this year such procession will not allowed, mentioned Sarma. The ritual of immersing the idol will continue for 2-3 days post the day of “Bhasani”.

Stating the safety protocols which are to be followed during the festivities, Sarma has urged the people of Assam to support the government in it’s resolve to limit the spread of the virus, which has seen a gradual decline in the past few weeks.

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Earlier the Assam government has issued guidelines for the celebration of Durga puja in the state.

The official order issued by state chief secretary Kumar Sanjay Krishna said that there shall be no mela etc., in and around puja pandals.

The state government has also imposed ban on erecting temporary pandals to celebrate puja by the side of any street.

“A maximum of 30 persons inclusive of organisers and priests shall be allowed to gather at any time in the puja pandals. A maximum of 20 devotees shall be allowed to gather at any puja premises subject to there being sufficient space to maintain social distancing. Puja organisers should not allow any person to enter the puja premises without face cover and washing of hands. It will be the responsibility of puja organisers to arrange for facilities for handwashing/sanitization at the entrance of puja premises,” the order said.

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