The Kerala government has set up an expert medical board to review the risks of holding the Thrissur Pooram amid the second wave of COVID-19. On Monday, Chief Secretary VP Joy convened the medical board with Dr Mohan Kunnumal, Vice Chancellor of the Kerala University of Health Sciences in Thiruvananthapuram, as chairperson.
The board also includes other prominent health experts including Dr Raveendran, additional professor, department of surgery and Dr Binu Areekal, additional professor, MD, Community Medicine of the Government Medical College, Thrissur.
The medical board will review the risks associated with holding the Thrissur Pooram this year, and submit a report with its recommendations by Monday evening. Based on these recommendations, a high level committee chaired by Chief Secretary VP Joy will take a call on holding the festival this year.
The Thrissur Pooram is the largest Hindu temple festival celebrated every year in Kerala. On average the festival attracts 2 million people from across districts and even from other countries. In 2020, the Pooram was cancelled due to the nation wide lockdown imposed by the Union government in order to curb the spread of COVID-19.
This year, it was decided that the Pooram will be conducted in the same scale as in previous years, but by also complying with COVID-19 protocols.
However, the second wave of COVID-19 witnessed in the country has led to a record number of cases. On Sunday, Kerala saw its highest single-day spike of COVID-19 cases after 18,257 new cases were confirmed. The state also saw 25 COVID-19 deaths on the same day.
The district of Thrissur, where the Thrissur Pooram is set to take place, saw the third highest number of positive cases on Sunday, at 1,780. It also reported six deaths, the highest number of deaths among districts.
The Test Positivity Rate (TPR) of Kerala (the number of samples which tested positive out of a group of samples), has been averaging at 14.02% over the last seven days. On Sunday, the state’s TPR stood at 16.77%.
The decision to not cancel Pooram by the state government as yet, despite the alarming rise in cases has sparked a controversy, with several members of the public stating that holding the festival right now would be risking the health of lakhs of people.
Speaking to TNM, CPI(M) Thrissur District Secretary MM Varghese said, “There are a lot of Pooram fans who want the festival to be held this year, since it was cancelled last year. The temple Devaswoms too, have expressed their interest in conducting the festival. However, a decision will only be taken following the high level meeting chaired by the Chief Secretary.”
The Thrissur Pooram is a competition between two groups of temples led by the Parmekkavu Bhagavathi temple and the Thiruvambadi Sri Krishna temple. The Devaswom members too are part of the discussions held on Pooram being conducted this year.
Speaking to TNM, G Rajesh, Parmekkavu Devaswom Secretary, said that “discussions are being held on the COVID-19 safety protocols that can be adopted while conducting the Pooram. The medical committee will give further recommendations and no decision on this has yet been taken.” He also added that a decision on holding the festival and allowing crowds will be announced by the Chief Secretary in the evening.
With Pooram slated to be held on April 23, several activists and intellectuals including writers, poets, and members of the film fraternity have asked for the Pooram to be cancelled this year. They have also questioned how the festival, which sees several lakh people, can be implemented with COVID-19 protocols in place.