Covid negative certificate mandatory for Sabarimala pilgrims

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Thiruvananthapuram: Devotees visiting the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala must carry a COVID-19 negative certificate after undergoing an RT-PCR test, the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) which manages the temple said on Sunday.

TDB President N Vasu said the RT-PCR test certificate, taken not more than 48 hours prior to their visit to the temple, is must for pilgrims from December 26. “COVID-19-negative certificate after a RT-PCR test, taken not more than 48 hours prior to their visit to the temple, is a must for the pilgrims to visit the shrine. Else they will not be permitted to undertake the pilgrimage,” Vasu said in a release.

The decision was taken in the backdrop of a recent directive by the Kerala High Court, which also raised the number of pilgrims permissible daily to 5,000. The temple will remain closed after the Mandala Puja on December 26 and reopen for the Makaravilakku pooja on December 31.

Except the Regional Public Health Laboratory at Kozhencherry, all other RT-PCR testing units in the district are in the private sector. The TDB authorities have limited to 100 the number of people taking part in the three-day procession carrying the Thiruvabharanam to be adorned on the idol of Lord Ayyappa during the Makaravilakku ceremony. The receptions to the procession at various points en route to Sabarimala have been cancelled, TDB said.

As per the revised guidelines issued on December15, all officials on duty at Sabarimala should also undergo the RT-PCR tests. Meanwhile, the state Health Department has intensified the antigen testing in Sabarimala and its base camps to check the possible spread of the viral infection in view of the increase in the number of permitted pilgrims at the hill shrine.

The auspicious Mandala pooja would be held on December 26. After the Makaravilakku ritual on January 14, the temple would be closed on January 20, marking the end of the season. It is the first annual pilgrimage season at the hill temple after the coronavirus outbreak.