Rising COVID cases at Sabarimala a concern

Health dept. considering suspending pilgrimage after Manadala season

Notwithstanding the unprecedented measures implemented to ensure a safe visit to Sabarimala, concerns are growing that the annual Mandalam-Makaravilakku season could fuel a wider outbreak of COVID-19 in and around the hill shrine.

Adding to the fears that the pilgrimage zone may witness a wider spread was the abrupt diagnosis of COVID-19 in 36 persons, including 18 policemen, among 239 persons on duty at the Sannidhanam. They tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 during an antigen testing drive held at Pampa the other day.

245 so far

Of the 18,691 tests conducted in Sabarimala till December 12, a total of 245, including 79 pilgrims and 169 others tested positive. A majority of these โ€˜othersโ€™ were those on duty at Sannidhanam. These 169 cases were detected when only 3,353 samples were tested.

According to health officials, all the persons who tested positive were immediately brought down to Nilackal and shifted to treatment centres. But at the same time, most of their primary contacts, who are asymptomatic, have been allowed to stay back for want of sufficient replacements.

โ€œEven if an employee joins the duty with a certificate testing negative for COVID-19 and is provided all precautionary gadgets, including face mask and PPE kit while on duty, the norms of physical distancing often go for a toss while off the duty. Ideally, all primary contacts of a patient should be send back irrespective of whether they are symptomatic and asymptomatic and subject them to antigen testing,โ€ pointed out a senior official with the State Health Department.

Taking a serious note of the situation, the Health Department is also considering the options of suspending the pilgrimage after the first 41 days and reopening the temple only on the Makaravilakku day.

Like in Guruvayur

โ€œIf viewed purely on the aspect of public health, closing down the temple as in the case of the Guruvayur temple is the only effective option for containment. But the 41-day Mandala season still has a couple of weeks to complete and it is during this period that some key rituals, including the procession of Thanka Anki, take place,โ€ the official added.

Under control: TDB

The Travancore Devaswom Board, however, said the situation was well under control though a close watch was being done on the developments in the pilgrimage zone.

โ€œDespite the mobility factor, the spread among the pilgrims has been far lesser than expected though it has been a bit different for the employees, who share common amenities at Sannidhanam. Almost all who are staying in and around the temple have been subjected to testing by now and barring a few isolated cases, no serious risks are in sight,โ€ said N. Vasu, president, TDB.

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