States should ensure people joining gatherings, pilgrimage are asymptomatic, vaccinated: Centre

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New Delhi: The Centre 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 earlier part of this year, a few states and UTs across the country are witnessing a sustained upswing in the cases currently.

"During many such events/yatras lakhs of individuals undertake 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," Bhushan said.

"All states and UTs where such mass gatherings/yatras are proposed to be held should 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," he said in the letter.

The Amarnath pilgrimage begins on June 30 and the Rath Yatra is scheduled for July 1.

Bhushan 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, Bhushan stressed.

Further adequate publicity and arrangement for testing should be done across multiple locations.

He 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.

It further 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.

Additional precautions need to be taken by elderly persons and those with co morbidities (like diabetes, hypertension, chronic lung/liver/kidney disease etc.) while planning to participate in such events, the letter stated.

They need to consult their treating doctor and continue taking their medications throughout the period while closely monitoring their health.

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 organise requisite health facilities on these routes, the letter said.

State and district health administrations have been also asked to maintain a close watch over occurrence of isolated/cluster of new COVID-19 cases and take prompt public health measures accordingly.

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

The letter 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 behaviour (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.

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 letter said.

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," the letter stated. PTI

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