Thiruvananthapuram: With only one day left for the opening of Sabarimala Lord Ayyappa temple for the annual Mandalam-Makaravilakku season, the Kerala government said elaborate arrangements have been made to ensure that no COVID-19 patient reaches the hill shrine for the pilgrimage.
The entire pilgrimage would be through the virtual queue system this time, so the usual heavy rush can be regulated, Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran said after a high level meeting of officials to review the final preparations at the temple on Friday.
The two-month-long annual Mandalam-Makaravilakku season at the Sabarimala Lord Ayyappa Temple, located in Pathanamthitta district, would begin on November 16.
COVID testing at Nilakkal and Pamba
Detailing various measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth pilgrimage in the wake of the pandemic, Surendran said each pilgrim, visiting the shrine, should carry a COVID negative certificate, taken within the last 24 hours.
COVID-19 testing kiosks would be opened at Pamba and Nilakkal, the base camps, to help devotees to carry out the test before beginning the trekking.
Apart from this, arrangements would be made by the health department to make antigen tests in various centres including, all bus stands and railway stations at Thiruvananthapuram, Tiruvalla, Chengannur and Kottayam, where pilgrims arrive to proceed to the Lord Ayyappa temple, he said.
Steps would be taken to ensure social distancing while allowing pilgrims for darshan.
For this, specific place would be marked for each devotee, the minister said adding that those aged between 60- 65 years should submit a medical fitness certificate.
Those testing positive for the viral infection, including those from other states, would be given adequate treatment until they turn negative.
Treatment can be given in either government or private hospitals as per the demand of the pilgrims.
All arrangements including the ambulance facility have been arranged in the government medical colleges in Pathanamthitta and Kottayam and also in the private hospitals in these districts, he said.
Noting that mask was not mandatory for pilgrims while trekking, Surendran said the relaxation was according to the protocol that provided exemption during high physical activity, but, devotees should follow strict COVID protocol.
Used masks should not be thrown away and arrangements would be made to collect and recycle it, official sources added.
As many as 1,000 pilgrims can visit the hill shrine through virtual queue a day. On weekends, the limit is 2,000. However, on special days like Mandala Pooja and Makaravilakku, 5,000 pilgrims will be allowed darshan.
The booking for virtual queue has stopped as maximum people have registered for this season. As many as 1.28 people have booked darshan within 2 days of opening the virtual queue.
The Mandala season will end with Mandala Pooja on December 26. The shrine will close at 10pm on the day.
Makaravilakku season will begin on December 30. The Makaravilakku is on January 14. The season will end on January 20 at 7am.
(With inputs from PTI)