Kerala celebrates Bakrid under the pandemic’s shadow

Mosques allow only up to 40 worshippers, people mostly avoid social gatherings

Kerala celebrated Bakrid under the grim shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic for the second year in a row on Wednesday.

The festival, which customarily entails communal prayer, family visits, gifts for relatives and friends and feasting, seemed a subdued affair this season.

Families remained sequestered at home mostly. Mosques allowed only less than 40 persons for prayers. Worshippers bought their mats, wore masks and sat physically distanced for prayers. The traditional geniality after prayers seemed absent, given the COVID-19 protocol against close physical interaction.

Watchmen checked the body temperature of visitors at mosque entrances, jotted down addresses, and mobile phone numbers before permitting them inside for prayers. Festival greetings were confined mainly to mobile phone video calls, WhatsApp messages, and online socialising.

Flak from SC

The customary holiday cheer seemed singularly absent. Residents generally deemed social gatherings unsafe. The government had also requested citizens to avoid holiday gatherings and casual travel. The State had come under criticism from the Supreme Court (SC) for allowing Bakrid relaxations despite a high test positivity rate (10.8) that showed scarce signs of declining.

The government’s pandemic expert committee had also expressed concern that unregulated holiday crowds and festival shoppers could precipitate another dangerous spike in coronavirus cases.

Digital greetings

Since social gatherings were deemed unsafe given the COVID-19 transmission threat, people confined festival greetings largely to mobile phones, WhatsApp messages and video calls. Large swathes of Malappuram, Kozhikode and Kasaragod districts, the traditional hubs of Bakrid festivities, remained under the grip of the pandemic. The average TPR in scores of local body jurisdictions in the regions was worryingly above 15%.

The government had categorised the localities as high spread D-zones. District administrations have tautened pandemic curbs in such hotspots. The administration was also worried that household-level clusters could upend the State’s pandemic control.

It has ordered ward-level committees to shift infected persons who lack adequate space to isolate themselves from the rest of the family at home to nearby FLTCs or hospitals without any delay.

Tighter norms from Thursday

The State government has, for now, rejected the traders’ demand to withdraw weekend lockdown, lift night curfew and allow shops to open on all days in the run-up to the Onam shopping season. It announced that it would tighten COVID-19 regulations from Thursday. Weekend lockdowns and night curfew after 9 p.m. curbs on retail and mobility would continue until July 27 at least.

An official said any further relaxation would hinge on how fast the State could lower the TPR and ramp up vaccination.

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