Bengaluru: Kerala’s Sabarimala Temple will open its doors to pilgrims on 16 November for the Mandalam-Makaravilakku season, but doctors have recommended that only those based in the state be allowed to visit.
This, the doctors say, will help avoid overcrowding and curb any further spread of Covid-19.
During the two-month Mandalam-Makaravilakku season every winter, over 30 lakh pilgrims visit the Sabarimala Temple, dedicated to Lord Ayyappa. However, in 2019, due to protests against the entry of women of all ages, as mandated by the Supreme Court, only 7.7 lakh devotees undertook the pilgrimage.
Kerala’s minister for Devaswom (socio-religious trusts), Kadakampally Surendran, confirmed to ThePrint the temple doors will open on 16 November, and said: “The state shall ensure all Covid-19 protocols will be followed and the number of devotees will also be restricted. It will be mandatory for all devotees to submit Covid-negative certificates before they undertake the pilgrimage.”
Since the first week of July, Kerala has seen a sudden spike in positive cases. By 10 September, Kerala had registered a total of 99,266 positive cases, of which 26,229 cases were active, 72,574 people had recovered, and 396 people had lost their lives.
A group of senior doctors from Kerala and the USA have recommended to the Kerala government how to handle the pilgrimage season during the pandemic.
In a study published in the Journey of Travel Medicine journal, they recommend that only Kerala residents be allowed to perform rituals at the temple, and their visits be staggered. The authors of the study are K. Rajashekharan Nayar, professor at the Global Institute of Public Health, Thiruvananthapuram; Altaf Ali, associate professor of community medicine, Government Medical College, Manjeri; Shafi Fazaluddin, research analyst at the Boston University School of Public Health, USA; and Shahul Ebrahim, adjunct professor of sciences, technique and technology, in the country of Mali in Africa.
“Only 5,000 devotees at a time should be allowed during the six-week season,” the doctors’ panel said, adding that if people from other states should be allowed only if they are residing in Kerala.
Other recommendations include establishing an exclusive command centre, and developing a web-based application available in Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Hindi.
“Devotees should be over 20 years of age and below 50 to attend the temple rituals,” the doctors suggested. There should be mandatory home isolation 14 days prior to their visit to the temple, and 10 days of quarantine after the pilgrimage,” they further stated.
An official in the Kerala health department said the recommendations would be taken under consideration, but it would be up to Health Minister K.K. Shailaja and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to take a call on the protocol to be followed.