An annual retreat for priests, held by the Church of South India (CSI) in Kerala's Munnar, in violation of COVID-19 protocols, turned out to be a 'super spreader' with more than 100 people who attended it testing positive. Two of the attendees also succumbed to the pandemic, reports The New Indian Express.
The retreat, held from April 13 to 17, was attended by nearly 350 priests. Some of those who attended the event had come from Thiruvananthapuram. The annual retreat was held despite requests to postpone it due to the pandemic.
The priests began testing positive after they returned to their homes.
The deceased have been identified as 52-year-old Bijumon and 43-year-old Shine B. Raj. While Bijumon died on Thursday, Raj passed away on Tuesday.
Bishop of South Kerala diocese A. Dharmaraj Rasalam, who had attended the retreat, too tested positive and is under home quarantine. Many of those who were infected have been hospitalised.
"CSI South Kerala held the retreat secretly at Munnar without informing the government. As per the government instructions, only 50 people are allowed in a conference. But here all safety guidelines went for a toss,” TNIE quoted Jacob Mathew, secretary of Church of South India Trust Association, as saying.
However, T.T. Praveen, secretary of South Kerala diocese of CSI, claimed that the event was organised adhering to the COVID-19 protocols and the government permission was also obtained. Although he admitted that some of the priests who attended the retreat tested positive, he claimed that they did not contract it during the event.
Praveen claimed that this was a propaganda against the CSI church, even as the Idukki district administration said they were not informed about the retreat.
Meanwhile, Shem P. Issac, who had submitted a complaint to the Kerala chief secretary over the episode, told The News Minute that the priests, some of the who were over 60, were forced to attend the event by Dharmaraj Rasalam against their wishes. "The retreat did not follow any COVID-19 protocol. The priests travelled in a bus from Thiruvananthapuram and did not follow social distancing. They did not use masks or sanitisers in the retreat," Issac was quoted as saying.
According to a News18 report, the CSI church claimed that only 10 priests had tested positive. “These numbers that they are saying is fake. Only about 10 people have tested positive. One death is due to COVID-19, the other was due to heart attack," News18 quoted Rassalam as saying. He further claimed that COVID-19 protocols were followed while holding the retreat.