As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Andhra Pradesh, the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) board, which manages affairs of the Sri Venkateswara temple atop Tirumala has announced new norms for pilgrims, as a precautionary measure. Pilgrims having a darshan slot on a particular day will be allowed to enter Tirumala by road through Alipiri only after 1 pm on the day before the darshan slot. Through the Alipiri and Srivari Mettu footpaths, pilgrims will be allowed only after 9 am on the day before the darshan slot.
The change in norms was announced by TTD on Monday, in a statement that said that following the increase of COVID-19 cases in the last few days, it has ‚Äútaken some precautionary measures in view of the health security of pilgrim devotees who are coming for darshan of Sri Venkateswara swamy from across the country to Tirumala.‚ÄĚ According to The New Indian Express, around 100 beds in Sri Padmavathi Medical College have been set aside for Tirumala pilgrims with COVID-19 symptoms, or those who may test positive at the screening checkpoint in Alipiri.
The Tirumala temple, governed by the TTD, is one of the most popular Hindu shrines in the world. It had been closed to devotees for around two and a half months starting from March last year due to COVID-19, before being reopened on June 11.
The number of devotees visiting the temple on a daily basis was initially capped at 6,000, and later increased to a maximum of 12,000. With restrictions eventually relaxed, Tirumala now has around 50,000 pilgrims on an average visiting the temple on a daily basis. Initially, TTD had also restricted entry for people above 65, children below 10 and pregnant women. These rules were also relaxed in December, after a gap of eight months.
In the months after reopening the temple for devotees, TTD saw a surge in COVID-19 infections among its employees. As of August 2020, a total of 743 TTD employees had tested positive for the coronavirus, and three employees had succumbed to COVID-19.