The government Kerala -hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic – has moved the Supreme Court against the High Court’s order increasing the number of pilgrims allowed to enter the Sabrimala temple during the ongoing pilgrimage to 5,000.
Last week, while hearing a bunch of pleas, the High Court had increased the number of people allowed at the temple during the pilgrimage season from 1,000 per day, while asking the state to replace the Rapid Antigen Tests with more reliable but comparatively expensive RT-PCR tests.
The state has now challenged the Kerala High Court’s December 18 order, stating it would increase the risk of contracting COVID-19 despite mandatory RT-PCR test done no longer than 48 hours ago.
In October, the state government, along with the Travencore Devaswon Board (TDB), had decided to reopen Sabarimala Temple for devotees the first time this year starting November 15.
However, in view of the pandemic, the number of devotees allowed was restricted to 1,000 a day, 2,000 on weekends and 5,000 on special days. The entry is managed through a virtual queue system for which one has to register.
The government has also taken a slew of safety measures including strict mask wearing, compulsory testing at base camps and health certificates.
In the years before the pandemic, thousands of people would visit Sabarimala during the two-month-long pilgrimage. However, this year, in view of COVID-19, the government had restricted this number to approximately 85,000.
The decision was taken in the backdrop of Kerala – which had successfully checked infections in the first wave – consistently reporting among the highest daily Covid cases in India since August. The infection surge was seen after Onam and ahead of local body elections that ended recently.
Kerala is India’s worst-hit state in terms of active Covid cases – 62,974 – fifth in overall numbers – 7.21 lakh – but it also has among the lowest deaths at 2,892 so far.