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Mandatory Antigen Test, Virtual Queue: Kerala's Yes to Devotees for Sabarimala Pilgrimage Amid Covid-19

File photo of Sabarimala temple.

File photo of Sabarimala temple.

The government also said as part of ensuring a safe pilgrimage season amid the Covid-19 pandemic, only a limited number of pilgrims who register through the virtual queue system will be allowed entry at the temple.

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Neethu Reghukumar

Since the Sabarimala Lord Ayyappa temple is all set to open its doors on November 16 for the Mandalam-Makaravilakku season, Kerala government on Monday announced that the pilgrims will be allowed for the two-month long holy season, adhering to Covid-19 protocol. The government has decided to reduce the number of devotees this year and entry only through a virtual queue system.

A high level meeting was convened by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to chalk out the plan for the annual pilgrimage season.

According to officials, those below 10 years and above 60 will not be allowed to take part in the pilgrimage. The government also said as part of ensuring a safe pilgrimage season amid the Covid-19 pandemic, only a limited number of pilgrims who register through the virtual queue system will be allowed entry at the temple.

The devotees from other states have been allowed to visit the Sabarimala temple, along with a mandatory Covid-19 negative certificate. Even upon reaching near the holy site, the devotees will again have to undergo an antigen test by the state authorities in order to enter the Sannidhanam. It is also to be noted that overnight stay at Sannidhanam will not be allowed this year due to coronavirus-induced restrictions.

Devotees will not be allowed to take dip in river Pamba. Instead, shower systems will be arranged at Erumely and Pamba for them to take bath, the Chief Minister said. Vijayan said special arrangements will be made for performing offerings including Neyyabhishekam (ghee abhisheka, an important offering to Lord Ayyappa) and Annadanam (the sacred tradition of offering food) adhering to COVID-19 protocol.

To prevent spread of the novel coronavirus during pilgrimage, drinking water to pilgrims climbing the hills for darshan will be provided in steel water pots. Vijayan said outlets of the state's Supplyco and Consumer fed departments will be opened at Pamba to ensure availability of the essential items.

A committee led by Chief Secretary, including state DGP, home secretary, principal secretary Devaswom board and health officials will examine and decide on the details further. Scores of devotees from neighbouring states like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telengana visit the Sabarimala temple every year.

"Our state officials will get in touch with their counterparts in neighbouring states as they will also need to ensure Covid-19 regulations. State Devaswom Minsiter will also discuss the matter with ministers of neighbouring states," Chief Minister Vijayan said.

The Chief Minister also said that the State Health Ministry will also look into the concerns raised by some about wearing of masks during climbing up the hill.

(with inputs from PTI)


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