With the places of worship and religious gatherings being allowed to open from June 8, the Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry on Thursday issued SOPs on preventive measures there to contain spread of novel Coronavirus.

In a detailed note, the Government said that places of worship for public in containment zones shall remain closed. Only those outside containment zones will be allowed to open up.

As a generic preventive measure, people above 65 years of age, children below the age of 10, persons with comorbidities and pregnant woman have been advised to stay at home.

The health ministry has directed all such places to ensure the protocol of social distancing and face masks are mandatory for gaining entrance.

Religious places have been asked to have mandatory hand sanitisation and thermal screening process for the visitors and only allow asymptomatic persons inside the premises. People with no face masks and face covers will not be allowed.

In a new normal, touching of statues, idols or holy books are not permitted.

The ministry has further asked religious places to keep the shoes or footwear of visitors outside. “If needed, they should be kept in separate slots for each individual/family by the persons themselves,” it said.

The Government has also asked places of worship to allow visitors in a staggered manner to avoid large gatherings.

Seating arrangements are to be done in such a way that adequate social distancing is maintained and for air-conditioning or ventilation, the guidelines of CPWD are to be followed which inter alia emphasises that the temperature setting of all air conditioning devices should be in the range of 24-30 degree Celsius.

The ministry, meanwhile, clarified that large gatherings or congregations will continue to remain prohibited and as a potential threat of spread of infection, choir or singing groups are not to be allowed and may be replaced by recorded devotional music.

The ministry also asked the people to avoid physical contact while greeting each other and also advised not use common prayer mats. Devotees have been urged to bring their own prayer mat or piece of cloth which they may take back with them.

The ministry also prohibited the use of physical offerings like prasad or distribution or sprinkling of holy water, etc. to be allowed inside religious places. It, however, allowed the community kitchens or langars at religious places with proper physical distancing norms while preparing and distributing food.

The Government also asked the religious places to have proper crowd management in the parking lots and outside the premises.

“Preferably separate entry and exits for visitors shall be organized,” the ministry said.

It further stated that any shops, stalls, cafeteria etc., outside and within the premises shall follow social distancing norms at all times and specific markings may be made with sufficient distant to manage the queue and ensure social distancing in the premises.

The ministry also asked religious places to get effective sanitisation within the premises with focus on lavatories, hand and foot-washing stations or areas. The ministry also clearly mentioned that spitting is strictly prohibited at places of worship and emphasised on installation and use of Aarogya Setu app.

On May 30, the Centre took an exit step from the 68-day nationwide lockdown, declaring that the restrictions will be limited only to containment zones up to June 30 and that the prohibited activities will be opened in a phased manner in areas outside these zones, allowing restaurants, malls, religious places and education sectors to open in a phased manner.

Lockdown 5.0 or Unlock has kicked in with some major relaxations compared to the previous phase of the lockdown including travelling between borders of states.

According to the guidelines in phase I, religious places and places of worship for public; hotels, restaurants and other hospitality services; and shopping malls; will be permitted to open from June 8, 2020.