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Coronavirus outbreak: Telangana in virtual lockdown, Tirupati temple puts curbs

While the Telangana government on Saturday ordered a virtual lockdown in the state until March 31 after a second person from Kothagudem is suspected to have coronavirus, in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, for the first time in over 1,700 years of its existence the temple of Lord Venkateshwara at Tirumala put curbs on visits by pilgrims due to the outbreak.

Also for the first time in the temple’s history, participation of devotees in the celestial wedding ceremony of Sri Sita Rama Kalyanam, which is usually observed at Vontimitta as part of the annual brahmotsavams of Sri Kodanda Ramaswamy temple, has been cancelled this year in view of the coronavirus alert. “As nearly 1 lakh devotees are expected to converge for the celestial Kalyanam on April 7 and sit for six to seven hours, Tirumala Tirupati Devesthanams (TTD) has decided to cancel the mass fete keeping in view the health of devotees. The Kalyanam will be observed in the temple by priests as usual, a TTD official said.

In Hyderabad, after a marathon meeting the Telangana Cabinet ordered shutdown of all educational institutions, shopping malls and cinema halls, and banned public gatherings until March 31.

This comes a day after a man from Kalaburgi, Karnataka, who visited Hyderabad for treatment, died and his samples were reported to have tested positive for Covid-19. He had come in contact with more than a hundred people, who are all under quarantine now, officials said.

On Saturday, officials said a person who had visited Italy is suspected of coronavirus. Telangana Health Minister Etala Rajender said: “The person had arrived from Italy on March 7 and did not show any symptoms when tested at the airport and went home. On March 9, the person developed high fever and was admitted to a private hospital at Manganuru, Telangana. On March 10, the patient was referred to Bhadrachalam Hospital, and after treatment went home. However, the Bhadrachalam Surveillance Officer counselled the patient to visit Gandhi Hospital, Hyderabad, for a test, where he was admitted in isolation ward.”

“Officials said the results came positive (in the first test, not confirmed case yet) today,” the minister said.

In Andhra Pradesh, instead of allowing thousands of pilgrims to wait in huge compartments for ‘darshan’, the TTD will give out tokens with time slots from March 17. This, officials said, will ensure that not more than 4,000 pilgrims are present inside the temple complex at any given time, and that they would stand in different queues instead of waiting in compartments, where thousands are bunched together.

TTD executive officer Anil Kumar Singhal said, “We had decided to take some steps, and the state government also asked us to initiate (certain) measures to prevent spread of coronavirus here. Tirumala is the most populated pilgrim centre, with the highest congregation of pilgrims, and we have contemplated measures to prevent any outbreak here,’’ he added.

As part of the new measures, devotees will not be made to sit in compartments of “Vaikuntham Queue Complex’’ to avoid person-to-person contact. “In the given time slots, pilgrims will be allowed for darshan by limiting the numbers. Devotees should bring ID card such as Aadhaar, voters’ ID, driving licence to get the time slot tokens,” Singhal said.

Singhal said the ground-breaking ceremony for construction of Sri Venkateswara Swamy temple in Mumbai, earlier scheduled on April 5, has also been postponed due to the virus outbreak.

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