April 13, 2021

Spike in COVID-19 cases dampens Rongali Bihu festivities in Assam

Guwahati April 13 : A spike in the COVID-19 cases in Assam and strict guidelines issued by the State government has dampened the festive spirit ahead of Rongali or Bohag Bihu beginning Wednesday.

Officials of the Health and Family Welfare Department said 583 out of 1,02,182 people tested on Monday were positive, taking the active cases count to 2,387. The positivity rate of 0.75% was “manageable”, but the spread of the cases has been a cause for concern.

More than 33% of the cases were detected in Kamrup (Metro) district, which comprises mostly of Guwahati where the major Bihu functions are organised.

The Bihu organisers are miffed with the standard operating procedures issued by the district authorities on April 9, asking them to obtain prior permission for the programmes, sanitise the venues twice and wind up programmes by 11 p.m. every night. All members of Bihu organising committees have been asked to undergo tests for COVID-19.

“A lot of investment goes into organising Bihu functions that have traditionally carried on well past midnight. After 2020 was lost to COVID-19 lockdown, people have been looking forward to enjoying Bihu this time, but the strict regulations have come in the way,” said Kailash Nath Sarma, advisor to the Brihattar Guwahati Bihu Sanmilani Sanammay Raksha Samiti, a coordination body of Bihu committees in the city.

He said the festival organisers have protested and demanded relaxation of restrictions as well as assignment of volunteers by the district administration at Bihu sites for testing and sanitising.

“The guidelines have virtually ensured a subdued Bihu,” Mr .Sarma said.

Assam’s neighbours too have geared up to prevent the spread of the new strain of the virus. Meghalaya imposed night curfew from Sunday but has resisted deferring high school and higher secondary school leaving exams under the State Board from April 16.

D.P. Wahlang, the State’s Principal Secretary for Education admitted that many parents were wary of sending their wards to the examination centres. “But we need to take decisions that are locally relevant,” he said.

The government, however, has convened a meeting with the heads of the institutes on Wednesday for “sharing ideas and concerns” over the State Board exams.

Mizoram, on the other hand, has not taken any chances although the number of active cases there is among the lowest. The State government has closed schools for students up to Class 8. Schools in the State had reopened only on March 1 after a long pandemic-induced gap.

The Mizoram government has also banned night church services and extended the duration of the existing night curfew in State capital Aizawl and the other district headquarters.

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