A total of 299 people including devotees and officials on duty at the Sabarimala hill shrine have tested positive for coronavirus since the temple opened for the annual ‘Mandala-Makaravilakku’ pilgrimage season last month. Following this, new COVID-19 guidelines have been released asking devotees and officials on duty to undergo RT-PCR test mandatorily before summiting the hill shrine.
"All pilgrims and officials on duty who reach Sabarimala after the Mandala Puja on December 26, are required to undergo the RT-PCR test. All of them should bring the COVID-19 negative certificate taken from an accredited lab 24 hours before reaching the base camp, Nilakkal," Health Minister KK Shailaja said in a statement.
According to official sources, 299 people, including 51 pilgrims, 245 employees and three others, have contracted the infection so far after the hill shine was thrown open for the annual Mandala-Makaravilakku pilgrimage last month. There was a 31 per cent increase in COVID-19 cases in Pathanamthitta, the district where the temple is located, the Minister said.
Though earlier, it was mandated that pilgrims should bring COVID-19 certificates, it was not specified that RT-PCR test itself should be done. But considering the increased number of cases, this has been made mandatory.
The Minister also said that special attention was paid to ensure a safe pilgrimage at Sabarimala as there were reports of extreme spread of the disease in many parts of the world including in some states in the country.
Urging pilgrims to follow the COVID protocol strictly, the Minister said all should keep physical distance while trekking the hill shrine and close contacts between devotees should be avoided to ensure there was no chance of super-spread of the infection.
Those who contracted the disease recently or having symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath or fatigue should refrain from the pilgrimage, the Minister said. Sheh also added that overcrowding should be avoided at the base camps and toilets should be disinfected after each use.