No let up in pilgrims visiting Kartarpur Sahib despite coronavirus scare in Pak; No plan to close Golden Temple; and more

Man Aman Singh Chhina, Kamaldeep Singh Brar
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This comes even as the Union government said that a call on Kartarpur Corridor's closure in view of the WHO-declared pandemic will be taken soon.

The coronavirus scare notwithstanding, there is no let up in the number of Indian pilgrims crossing over into Pakistan to pay obeisance at Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur with nearly 4,000 visitors having made the journey in the past one week.

A senior Border Security Force (BSF) official Friday said that no foreign national will be allowed to enter India from Pakistan through the Attari-Wagah border, but the movement of pilgrims from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur through the Kartarpur Corridor to the Sikh shrine in Pakistan would continue.

This comes even as the Union government said that a call on Kartarpur Corridor's closure in view of the WHO-declared pandemic will be taken soon. The Jathedar of Akal Takht, Giani Harpreet Singh, however, said that the corridor must be kept open.

The Jathedar told mediapersons in Amritsar that the corridor is a matter of faith for the Sikhs and it should only be closed if all other international pilgrimages too are suspended,

With the contagious virus having made its presence felt in Pakistan too, health officials have been expressing their concern over keeping the border crossing at Kartarpur open.

Pakistan government has detected 28 cases of coronavirus till now with eight of them being Army officers between the ranks of Lt Colonel and Major General posted in Rawalpindi in Punjab. Cases have also been reported in Pakistan from Sindh, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan.

Health officials in Punjab say that since Pakistani citizens also have access to Kartarpur Sahib, there is a danger that some of the infected individuals may pass on the virus to Indian pilgrims visiting the shrine.

Data accessed by The Indian Express from Punjab government officials show that 3,871 pilgrims have visited Kartarpur Sahib after crossing over from Dera Baba Nanak border in Gurdaspur between March 7 and 13.

The figures show that 585 visitors crossed the border on March 7; 1,111 on March 8; 618 on March 9; 417 on March 10; 452 on March 11; 331 on March 12, and 357 on March 13.

State government officials inform that approximately 16,000 passengers have been screened at the Dera Baba Nanak check post with Pakistan and that no individual has been found to be symptomatic for coronavirus till now.

Meanwhile, the Global Sikh Council has urged greater precaution at gurdwaras. It has asked all gurdwara managements to scale up precautionary measures. The president of the council, Gurpreet Singh said that use of food grade gloves for sewadars and volunteers performing sewa in langars should be enforced.

Speaking about Kartarpur Corridor, Gurpeet Singh said that there is no hard and fast rule that pilgrims have to visit the gurdwara when such a disease is prevalent.

"Our appeal to the 'Sangat' is that they should judge the situation themselves as far as Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara is concerned. It is upto the individual to decide and exercise whatever restraint that they want to use. Unless you know for sure that there is some emergency the state should not interfere till then," he said.

The closure of Kartarpur Sahib corridor is an emotive issue in Punjab even if it is for temporary period. There had been a huge furore in February when the state DGP Dinkar Gupta made a statement that the corridor could be misused by Pakistan to train terrorists in a few hours time that the visitors' spend in Pakistan.

The Kartarpur Corridor, which was opened on November 9 last year, links the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan, the final resting place of Guru Nanak Dev, with Dera Baba Nanak India's Punjab.

No plan to close Golden Temple, any other gurdwara, says SGPC

There is no plan to ask devotees to stay away from the Golden Temple or other gurdwaras, the Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) Friday said, adding that it has already taken necessary precautionary measures to avoid spread of coronavirus.

“There is no dent in the number of devotees. They are still coming (to Golden Temple) in same numbers. There was long queue today too. Panic over the coronavirus has failed to discourage the devotees. The tourist inflow, however, has decreased,” SGPC chief secretary Roop Singh told the Indian Express

“Devotion work in its own way. Devotees have faith that all their pain will be healed with the power of prayer. How can we ask devotes to not come to gurdwaras? It is not even on our mind,” he added.

Roop Singh, however said, that it doesn’t mean that the SGPC was not alert. “We have told devotees not to shake hands. We have also replaced the towels at the hand washing points inside Golden Temple with paper napkins. We are taking precautions,” he added.

Meanwhile, amid reports that some gurdwaras in the United Kingdom have been closed for the devotees over coronavirus fears, Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh said, “We don’t have anything to comment. The managers of those gurdwaras are wise enough to take the right decision. They must have taken decision to close the shrines after calculating all the aspects in the respective country. We leave this decision to them”.

Earlier the Jathedar had made appeal to the devotees visiting Golden Temple to avoid shaking hands. “Administration has told us that devotees coming to Golden Temple should take precautions to stop the spread of coronavirus and they must avoid hand shake. Devotees should greet everyone with traditional Sikh Fateh. We should keep hands clean. Devotees are welcome at Golden Temple. I appeal all to take precautions and pray to God to save us all from this disease,” the Jathedar said.

Golden Temple receives 80,000 to one lakh visitors every day on an average and the numbers increase on weekend and holidays. The SGPC officials claim that even now close to 50,000 devotees are visiting the Golden Temple.

Punjab DCs told not to grant permission for mass gatherings

A seven-member group of ministers, formed by the Punjab government to review on a daily basis the situation triggered by the novel coronavirus pandemic, Friday asked the deputy commissioners not to grant permission for mass gatherings.

In a meeting held here under the chairmanship of Local Bodies Minister Brahm Mohindra, the panel urged religious leaders and Dera (sect) heads to postpone their scheduled religious congregations.

Mohindra said that to check the spread of the deadly disease, 2,200 quarantine beds were ready throughout the state. Also, a total 250 ventilators in private hospitals and 20 ventilators each were ready at government medical colleges in Amritsar and Patiala.

The minister said consistent awareness campaign would be launched in coordination with all the government departments, the Indian Medical Association, social and religious organisations, and NGOs to educate people to refrain from shaking hands and avoid mass gatherings.

Mohindra added that anganwadi workers, panchayat secretaries and others would establish personal contact with all the households in the rural areas to sensitise the people.

Later in the day, Minister for Social Security, Women and Child Development Aruna Chaudhary, announced holidays for children in all Anganwadi Centres in state till March 31 owing to the Covid-19 threat. The staff will, however, continue to be present at the Anganwadi Centres.

More than 88,000 passengers have been screened so far for coronavirus at the Amritsar and Mohali airports. Over 6,600 passengers with travel history to coronavirus-affected countries were screened and 335 passengers were found untraced, according to government statement.

A passenger, who returned from Italy, was tested positive and was admitted to government hospital in Amritsar. Seven passengers were found to have symptoms of suspected coronavirus, as per the bulletin. (ENS)