Hyderabad: Within two months of re-opening the Sri Venkateswara temple of Tirumala in Andhra Pradesh, 743 of its employees have tested positive for COVID-19 a top official of the managing body of the temple said.
Anil Singhal, Chief Executive Officer of the Tirumala Tirupati Devsthanam (TTD) said that 402 staff members had recovered after treatment and returned to work while 338 were still undergoing treatment. He confirmed the death of three employees due to COVID-19.
However, no visitors to the temple had tested positive so far, he added.
The richest Hindu temple in India-Tirumala- was closed to the devotees in the third week of March when a nationwide lockdown had come into effect. It had adversely affected the revenue of the temple creating a financial crunch resulting in the removal of 1,300 contract workers.
With the easing in lockdown norms, Andhra Pradesh government decided to reopen the temple on June 8 and so far more than five lakh people have visited the temple.
Singhal, rejecting the criticism that the TTD had reopened the temple for the sake of income, endangering the lives of the employees as well as the pilgrims, said, “This is a baseless criticism by some vested interests. The pilgrim service resumed at Tirumala because devotees were repeatedly requesting the reopening to have a Darshan of the deity.”
He clarified that the TTD was spending more money on safety measures against COVID-19 than it was earning as revenue.
“Till July 9, 90 staff members had tested positive and 652 more were affected during last one month”, he said.
While 238,000 pilgrims visited the temple in the month of July, below the normal 3 million devotees per month, Singhal said that the number of visitors was kept limited to 9,000 per day in view of the prevailing situation.
“The number of visitors had dropped with the rise in Corona cases but now they are picking up once again”, he said.
The twin temple towns of Tirumala-Tirupati fall in Andhra Pradesh, which has seen big spike in number of positive cases. The state recorded 10,820 positive cases and 97 deaths on Sunday alone. The tally of positive cases in the state now stand at 228,000 and death toll was 2,036, officials said.