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Two more Christian priests, who had tested positive for Covid-19 after attending the Church of South India (CSI) annual retreat in Munnar (Idukki district) from April 13-17, died on Wednesday while condition of five others were critical, church insiders told HT on Thursday.
Father C Binokumar (39) and Father Y Devaprasad (59) died in CSI Medical College Hospital in Karakonam and five others are on ventilator support, a church insider said. With the two deaths, the toll from those attending the annual retreat jumped to four.
Police registered a case against 400-odd priests, including CSI South Kerala Diocese Bishop Father Dharmaraj Rasalam, on May 5 for allegedly flouting Covid-19 protocols to organise a religious retreat in hill station Munnar.
The case was registered after the Devikulam Sub-Collector submitted a report that permission was not sought for the large gathering and norms were flouted, which triggered a super-spread.
The incident surfaced after two priests died of Covid-19 in May first week and more than 100 participants reportedly tested positive. Some of the reformist groups in the church alleged that a section of priests was forced to attend the retreat after church authorities threatened them.
There were many attempts to hush up the case and most of the infected were shifted to a medical college run by the church along the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border discreetly, they alleged.
The case was registered under Section 269 of the Indian Penal Code and sections of the Kerala Epidemic Diseases Control Act after a senior revenue official inquired the incident and found that more than 450 people, majority of them priests, attended the meet while flouting pandemic norms. Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had termed the incident “unfortunate.”
The incident came to light at a time when the state is battling the surging second wave of the pandemic. Kerala reported 39,955 cases on Thursday, taking the active caseload to 438, 913. A total of 97 people succumbed to the infection on Thursday, taking the toll in the state to 6,150, according to health department data.
Church insiders said all restrictions were flouted and when some young priests questioned the timing of the retreat, they were threatened with disciplinary action by authorities.
However, the church maintained that all precautions were taken and only 28 priests and not 100 had tested positive. The CSI retreat is the latest religious event to hit the headlines for recklessness during the pandemic.
Last year, at the beginning of the first wave, a congregation of the Tablighi Jamaat in New Delhi caused a spike in cases. Similarly, last month’s congregation at the Kumbh Mela also contributed to spike in cases in many north Indian states.