Sabarimala: The famous Lord Ayyappa temple here, opened for the annual Mandala-Makaravilakku pilgrimage season, is all set to receive more pilgrims now with the Kerala government deciding to allow more devotees for darshan by adhering to COVID-19 protocols. As per the new decision, a maximum of 2000 devotees would be allowed to have darshan at the hill temple on weekdays and 3000 on Saturdays and Sundays, which was 1,000 and 2,000 earlier respectively, state Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran said. “It has been decided to allow more pilgrims at the Sabarimala temple. The entire booking will be done via online,” he said in a statement. Pilgrims can book darshan through the virtual queue system in the concerned website from today, the minister added. Noting that the entire pilgrimage would be in compliance with the COVID-19 guidelines, he said all devotees were required to produce a coronavirus test negative certificate issued within 24 hours before reaching Nilakkal, the base camp. Arrangements have been made at Nilakkal for devotees to undergo the test. Pilgrims can also check in any authorised COVID-19 kiosks run by the government or private agencies anywhere en route to Sabarimala, the minister added. 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 department, on Monday, began the testing at Sannidhanam (temple complex) and Pamba, the base camp, for all categories of employees and volunteers serving at the shrine and its premises for more than 14 days, official sources said. A total of 200 people are examined daily at the health centre in Pamba. Of the 200 cleaning workers, who underwent testing on Monday, four were tested positive for the virus and they were shifted to the COVID first line treatment centre at Erumeli. The antigen testing would begin at 3.00 pm at the health centre in Pamba, they added. Till November 27, a total of 39 people including pilgrims, police personnel and temple employees, had been tested positive for coronavirus in Sabarimala since the temple here was openedfor the annual pilgrimage season on November 16. 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.
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