The Kerala government on Wednesday unveiled a multi-pronged action plan to ensure better health services for pilgrims visiting the Sabarimala Lord Ayyappa Temple, which is all set to reopen for the two-month annual Mandala-Makaravillaku season from November 16.
The pilgrimage to Sabarimala, located in a reserve forest of the Western Ghats in Pathanamthitta district, which attracts millions of devotees every year, is being carried out under strict Covid-19 guidelines this time. Authorities have already issued a health advisory to ensure strict compliance by pilgrims to standard protocols while trekking to the hill shrine to prevent the spread of the pandemic.
Stating that the health department has formulated the action plan, taking into account the present condition of Covid-19, health minister K.K. Shylaja urged all devotees to strictly follow the government guidelines. Detailing various steps taken by the government under the action plan, she said the state health agency has empanelled 48 government and private hospitals -- 21 hospitals in Pathanamthitta and 27 in Kottayam -- to ensure special treatment and care for Sabarimala pilgrims. The service of specialist doctors and 1,000 employees from the health and education departments and Covid brigade would be ensured in various centres of Sabarimala, she said, adding that doctors would work in rotation for one week and the other staff in rotation for 15 days.
A string of emergency treatment centres would be set up from Pampa, the base camp, to Sannidhanam (temple complex), to address various health issues pilgrims may suffer, ranging from palpitation, shortness of breath and chest pain to heart attack.
An emergency operation theatre at Sannidhanam, specialist dispensaries at various points, oxygen parlours and round the clock service of staff nurses trained in using automatic external defibrillators for pilgrims suffering from heart attack would also be ensured.
The director of health would be in charge of all health service-related activities in Sabarimala, implemented under the action plan, in the state level. Medical officers from Pathanamthitta, Kottayam, Idukki and Alappuzha districts would act as nodal officers in charge of the respective districts, the health minister added.
As religious congregations and pilgrimages have turned out to be hotbeds of transmission of the virus across the globe and in various parts of the country, the Left government is keeping its fingers crossed as lakhs of pilgrims throng the state during the pilgrimage season. The temple had been opened for devotees for five days last month during the monthly pujas after remaining shut for over six months. In view of the pandemic, the government has decided to allow only 1,000 pilgrims every day to offer prayers.
As per the advisory, closed spaces with poor airflow, crowded places, close face to face contact among pilgrims have to be avoided and to ensure safe pilgrimage there is need to restrict the number of pilgrims being allowed each day. Pilgrims must frequently wash their hands, maintain physical distance, use face masks and carry hand sanitisers.
Those recently exposed to the disease or who have had symptoms like cough, respiratory problems, loss of smell, fatigue should keep away from the arduous journey. All pilgrims have to carry the Covid-19 negative certificate with tests done 24 hours before reaching base camp Nilakkal, the advisory added.