At least 652 employees of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) employees have tested positive for COVID-19 cases in a month – making it a seven-fold increase in the total number of infections.
The temple’s governing board, however, has no plans to enforce any kind of lockdown in the area, neither is it considering shutting down the temple at this time. So far, 743 TTD employees have tested positive after the famous temple opened its doors to public on June 11.
The temple was closed for two-and-a-half months following a nationwide lockdown that was imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Till July 9, the total count of the employees contracting the virus was 91. And, between July 10 and August 9, the case count shot up seven times.
About 22,000 people, including regular and outsourced workers, are employed with the board. Tests have been conducted on nearly 9,102 of these employees till now.
The 743 positive cases include priests, outsourced and regular workers, those part of the special protection force (SPF), vigilance department, maintenance teams and sanitation workers. Among them, three employees have succumbed to the virus so far.
A senior official of the temple board said the numbers are not really alarming considering the total number of employees who work with TTD in the Tirumala and Tirupati region.
“They are not just working on the temple premises. They are spread across the entire area. If we look at the number (743) – it is still below the state and district averages,” the official, who wished not to be named, told News18.
According to sources, the TTD board is set to conduct a meeting towards the end of August as part of its general routine. However, the board is not contemplating any closure or discontinuation of ‘darshans’ to general public.
Meanwhile, 2.38 lakh devotees from across the country visited the Tirumala temple in July alone. The board for the richest temple in the country received about Rs 16.69 crore in Hundi collection and about Rs 3.97 crore through e-Hundi.
No devotee, who visited the temple ever since it reopened for ‘darshan’, has tested positive for the positive, according to media reports. The TTD board has arranged screening facility for visitors at the foot of the hill and at other points.
Besides symptomatic pilgrims, about 200 asymptomatic visitors are also undergoing random tests on a daily basis in Tirumala. Of the 743 infected employees, 402 have recovered, while 338 are undergoing treatment.
At least two TTD guest houses with more than 200 rooms have been converted into Covid care centres.
“We are making the best possible arrangements and ensuring proper treatment for all our employees in the Covid centres. I thank all our employees for offering extraordinary services to pilgrims,” TTD executive officer Anil Singhal said on Sunday.
Earlier, several TTD workers’ unions, a senior police official and also former chief priest Ramana Dikshitulu had advised the TTD to close the temple to the public citing the rise in the number of virus cases.
The temple board, however, decided otherwise. “The key indicating factor is how many positive cases we have per 100 people. The percentage is 8.1 percent, which is lower than Andhra Pradesh’s overall average. According to our assessment, beyond 15 percent is dangerous, till then it’s manageable,” a senior health official from TTD told News18.
The board has also refuted the claims that temple ‘darshans’ are being allowed only to fill their coffers.
It has said the TTD is spending more on managing the temple with utmost precautions for the safety of the piligirms than what it is receiving in donations.
“Some people are accusing us of keeping the temple open for income. But right now, the cost of managing the temple is higher than what the devotees are giving. I want to clarify that we did not open the temple for revenue. Cases are increasing across the state, it is not just because the temple has been kept open, like the perception prevailing in social media,” Singhal said.
The state has witnessed a massive spike in cases in last month and one of the worst-hit districts is Chittoor where the famous Tirumala temple is located.