The Odisha government on Monday said masks would be mandatory for devotees coming to Puri to witness the famous nine-day Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath scheduled to begin from July 1.
Devotees have been allowed to take part in the Rath Yatra this time after a gap of two years. The state government expects a turnout of more than eight lakh devotees during the festival. For the last two years, only servitors were allowed to participate in the Yatra due to the pandemic.
Director (health services) Bijay Kumar Mohapatra told The Telegraph: “We will advise people having Covid symptoms to not come to Puri during Rath Yatra. As there is going to be a large congregation, we will request the devotees to wear masks and try to ensure that everyone wears masks. All precautions would be taken to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Health camps will be set up at different points in Puri town, particularly at the railway station, bus stand and Bada Danda (Grand road where the chariots will roll). We will even distribute masks to the devotees during the Yatra.”
Mohapatra has also made it clear that people need not to bring Covid-19 vaccine certificates with them while coming to Puri to participate in the Rath Yatra.
In a bid to fight Covid-19, the state government has also set up Covid care centres in Puri. “There is an adequate supply of oxygen. Besides, ICU beds are available in Puri hospital for treatment of patients,” said officials.
A preparatory meeting was also held for the Rath Yatra. “Senior officials of all the departments concerned were called to the meeting to discuss smooth conduct of the Yatra. Officials have been put on high alert to ensure that the Yatra passes off peacefully and devotees have a good darshan of the deities,” law minister Jagannath Saraka said.
Health minister Naba Kishore Das has ruled out the possibility of a lockdown because of Covid. “We have managed Covid-related issues effectively during the last two years. Though there has been a slight increase in the Covid cases, the situation is well under control,” Das said.
The state on Monday registered 69 new Covid cases and 404 active cases.
The police have been instructed to remain vigilant during the Yatra.
Director-general of police Sunil Kumar Bansal said: “ Around 180 platoons of police force, including striking force, would be deployed to ensure a safe and peaceful Rath Yatra. The officials will be sensitised to ensure smooth darshan of the deities by devotees. Metal detectors will be deployed at different places, including close to the chariots.”