The Amarnath Yatra will be conducted in a staggered manner this year, with no more than 500 pilgrims allowed per day, as a result of coronavirus lockdown restrictions, the government said Wednesday evening.
In a high-level meeting at government offices in North Block in Delhi, it was decided that the yatra to a shrine sacred to devotees of Lord Shiva would be allowed for a fortnight starting July 21.
"This year only 500 pilgrims will be allowed in a day and that too in a staggered manner," a senior functionary in the Home Ministry told NDTV.
Related issues, such as routes, were also discussed in the meeting.
"Only the 16-kilometre Baltal route will be accessible this year as it is shorter and you can complete the yatra in a day," he said.
The Pahalgam route will not be opened as it is covered in snow.
The yatra, which normally takes place over 42 days, was scheduled to commence from June 23 but it was delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The shortened yatra will see COVID-19 specific SOPs (standard operating protocols) in place, such as testing of people from outside Jammu and Kashmir and social distancing.
Authorities are particularly concerned because the symptoms for COVID-19 infection and high-altitude sickness are almost identical.
Wednesday's meeting was attended by Union Ministers G Kishan Reddy and Jitendra Singh and senior Home Ministry officials,
Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor GC Murmu and Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam, as well as divisional commissioners of Jammu and Kashmir also attended, via video conference.
The 2019 Amarnath Yatra was cut short following terror threats; these came ahead of the government's contentious decision on Article 370, which gave Jammu and Kashmir special status.
In 2018, the Amarnath Yatra was held over 60 days.
Meanwhile, pilgrimages to the Vaishnodevi shrine have been suspended till July 31; it is likely that locals will get first access when it is re-opened.
Jammu and Kashmir has reported nearly 9,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases so far, including 143 deaths linked to the infectious virus.
Wednesday's meeting also reviewed ongoing development works in the union territory.
These include implementation of centrally sponsored schemes, progress in achieving targets under the Prime Minister's Development Package 2015, issues raised during the outreach efforts by union ministers in January and issues related to implementation of J&K Reorganisation Act.