Coronavirus outbreak: Govt suspends travel, registration to Kartarpur Sahib

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Travels to Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib temporarily suspended.

The Ministry of Home Affairs Sunday temporarily suspended travel and registration to Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan as a precautionary measure to contain COVID-19 till further orders. With the contagious coronavirus having made its presence felt in Pakistan too, MHA spokesperson announced the decision on Twitter.

On Saturday, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had, in a tweet, announced the closure of the gurdwara for Pakistanis. However, the Pakistan government said the Kartarpur corridor would remain open for Indian pilgrims.

The temple of Lord Venkateshwara at Andhra Pradesh's Tirumala too has put curbs on visits by pilgrims — the first time in over 1,700 years of its existence — due to the outbreak.

The Indian government had earlier said that a call on Kartarpur Corridor’s closure in view of the WHO-declared pandemic would be taken soon. The Jathedar of Akal Takht, Giani Harpreet Singh, however, said that the corridor must be kept open. The corridor is a matter of faith for the Sikhs and it should only be closed if all other international pilgrimages too are suspended, the Jathedar told mediapersons in Amritsar.

Health officials in Punjab said that since Pakistani citizens also had access to Kartarpur Sahib, there was a danger that some of the infected individuals might pass on the virus to Indian pilgrims visiting the shrine. According to the data accessed by The Indian Express from Punjab government officials, 3,871 pilgrims had visited Kartarpur Sahib after crossing over from Dera Baba Nanak border in Gurdaspur between March 7 and 13.

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Pakistani people queue up for coronavirus screening. (File Photo)

Meanwhile, Pakistan on late Friday night accepted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposal for a SAAR meeting, following which the SAARC leaders are scheduled to hold a summit via video-conference on coronavirus at 5 pm today.

Islamabad, however, specified that the engagement would be at the level of the Special Assistant to the Pakistan PM on Health. In a tweet, Pakistan Foreign Office Spokesperson Aisha Farooqui said, “We have communicated that SAPM (Special Assistant to Pakistani Prime Minister) on Health (Zafar Mirza) will be available to participate in the video conference of SAARC member countries on the issue."