The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam Board has decided to close the famous Lord Venkateswara Swamy or Balaji temple to devotees as a precautionary measure to control the spread of coronavirus.
The decision was taken after an emergency meeting was called today. TTD Board chairperson YV Subba Reddy told NDTV that a devotee from Maharashtra had taken ill with fever, cough and cold inside the temple and had to be shifted to hospital.
"Though for the last few days we have been asking devotees to avoid coming to the temple, the situation now is such that we have to close the temple. The daily puja rituals will be carried out by the archakas," Mr Reddy said.
The patient who is now in Sri Venkateswara Ruia Hospital had come along with a group of about 100 pilgrims who had visited several other temples across the country. His sample has been sent for testing positivity to coronavirus.
The worry is that before being detected at Tirumala temple, the man may have been exposed to many pilgrims here and elsewhere. All of them may need to be identified and monitored.
The restrictions would come into force from Friday, Deputy Chief Minister for Medical and Health A K K Srinivas (Nani) said after a high-level meeting on COVID-19, chaired by Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy.
Major places of worship of other religions would also be closed, the Deputy Chief Minister said.
Tirumala gets from 75,000 to 90,000 pilgrims every day. After appeals to avoid visiting the temple, this week there were about 30,000 devotees per day. "Even that can be a huge health risk. That is the reason we decided to shut the temple to devotees. We are stopping them at Alipiri today itself. That may upset people, but it cannot be avoided," Mr Reddy said.
The Andhra Pradesh government has already asked malls and cinema halls to close down till March 31.