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Health experts say Kerala govt playing with fire

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: At a time when newer cases of COVID-19 are being reported from across the country, the upcoming pongala festival at the Attukal Devi temple here on Monday — the single biggest gathering of woman devotees anywhere in the world — has raised eyebrows. While the state government gave its nod for the pongala, a section of public health experts said the government is playing with fire to appease a section of society.

They have demanded that a strategy should be put in place to plug the possibility of COVID- 19 outbreak during such a mass gathering. “Considering the mode of transmission of COVID-19, this is a high-risk situation. Pongala means mass gathering and the transmission mode includes person to person,” said a public health expert. “World over, conferences have been cancelled, mass gatherings banned and sports events postponed. Talks are also on to postpone the Summer Olympics to be staged in Tokyo. There was even a tweet from PM Narendra Modi which said as experts across the world have advised reducing mass gatherings to avoid the spread of COVID-19 he is not participating in any Holi Milan programme. But it seems the state government is yet to understand the risks involved,” he added.

Meanwhile, Health Minister KK Shailaja told reporters on Tuesday there are no COVID- 19 risks associated with the Attukal Pongala. The department will ensure a visit by health experts who will examine foreign nationals of fering the pongala. “This is not an attempt to create fear psychosis. It is a basic fact that chances of transmission of the virus increases due to close contact and lack of respiratory hygiene. How can the government guarantee that no transmission will take place during the pongala? It is not known whether the health minister had relied on scientific facts while giving the nod,” said a DHS(Directorate of Health Services) official .

Meanwhile, a source said a section of doctors had objected to the move to grant permission for the pongala in view of the COVID-19 threat. According to Sisupalan Nair K, secretary of the Attukal Bhagavathy Temple trust which organises the annual pongala, “ Several lakh woman devotees are expected to offer the pongala. But neither the state government nor the health department has asked us to ensure any precautions. Had they asked us to remain cautious, we would have procured sufficient number of face masks for providing it to the devotees”.

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