A total of 743 employees of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) have tested positive for the novel coronavirus so far, according to TTD officials. So far, three employees have succumbed to the virus since June 11, a top TTD official said on Sunday. TTD Executive Officer Anil Kumar Singhal told the media that among all employees including special protection force (SPF), vigilance department, sanitation workers, outsourced as well as regular workers, 743 employees have contracted COVID-19. Among them, 402 have already recovered, he said.
According to PTI, the number of cases includes some priests of the Tirumalal Venkateswara as well. While 402 employees have recovered, 338 people are undergoing treatment at different COVID Care facilities, EO Singhal told reporters.
The Tirumala temple, governed by the TTD, had re-opened on June 11 for public after being closed for two and a half months owing to the coronavirus-induced lockdown. All districts in Andhra Pradesh have been severely affected by the pandemic, including Chittoor district, where the temple is located.
With an increasing number of infections among TTD employees, TTD workersâ€™ unions, as well as a senior police official and former chief priest Ramana Dikshitulu had advised the TTD to close the temple to the public. However, the TTD has continued to allow devotees to visit the shrine, claiming that visitors were safe from infection and all precautions were being taken to mitigate the spread of the virus.
On July 19, a former TTD chief priest Srinivasa Dikshitulu passed away after testing positive for the coronavirus.
On Sunday, EO Singhal denied reports in sections of the media and on social media that TTD had reopened the hill shrine after the coronavirus lockdown for the public with an intention to fill its coffers. â€śSome people are accusing us of keeping the temple open for income. But right now, the cost of managing the temple is higher than the income we get from devotees. I want to clarify that we did not open the temple for income. Cases are increasing across the state, it is not just because the temple has been kept open, like the perception prevailing in social media,â€ť he said.
He said the ancient temple was reopened on requests from devotees and entry was allowed by following strict COVID-19 measures.
Most of the infected employees who are undergoing treatment are asymptomatic, and are being treated in Srinivasa Nivasam, Vishnu Nivasam, Padmavati Nilayam and other guest houses owned by TTD, besides RUIA hospital and Sri Venkateswara Institute of Medical Sciences (SVIMS) hospital in Tirupati, Singhal said.