A priest and 16 police officers on duty in Uttar Pradesh’s Ayodhya city have tested positive for Covid-19 ahead of the ground-breaking ceremony of a Ram temple on August 5, several reports said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend the “bhoomi poojan” or the foundation ceremony.

Pradeep Das, the priest who has contracted the infection, is the disciple of Acharya Satendra Das. Pradeep Das is also one of the four who gives offerings to the deity every day. Reports claimed that he was supposed to be part of the August 5 event.

The priest has been placed in home quarantine and contact tracing is being conducted, according to News18. The police officers, who have tested positive, were on security duty on the temple’s premises.

The ground-breaking ceremony is expected to begin around noon and the prime minister is scheduled to offer prayers at Hanuman Garhi and the makeshift temple of the idol of Ramlalla before that.

Modi will also set into the ground a silver brick, as a symbolic gesture of ground-breaking. A total of 200 people, including 150 invitees, would be allowed for the ceremony. The physical presence of others will be curtailed due to the coronavirus crisis.

However, the event will be telecast live. Dozens of giant LED screens will also be installed in Ayodhya and Faizabad cities. A member of the trust said that they have made arrangements for every devotee to “feel and experience” the event amid the restrictions.

There has been stiff opposition to the live telecast of the ceremony. Communist Party of India MP Binoy Viswam on Sunday wrote to the Centre opposing the telecast. He said the use of the channel to broadcast the religious function at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh is contrary to the “accepted norms of national integrity”.

Social activist Saket Gokhale had moved the Allahabad High Court seeking a restraining order on the bhoomi poojan, citing coronavirus concerns. He had argued that around 300 people would gather at a single location, which was likely to violate physical distancing guidelines prescribed by both the Centre and the state government to stop the coronavirus from spreading. However, the High Court dismissed his petition on July 24.

Following this, Gokhale sought assistance from the Maharashtra government after alleged members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh showed up outside his home in Mumbai and started chanting “Jai Shri Ram” slogans.

The temple’s construction began after in a landmark verdict in November, the Supreme Court had ruled that the disputed land in Ayodhya would be handed over to a government-run trust for the construction of a Ram temple. The court said that the demolition of Babri Masjid was illegal and directed the government to acquire an alternative plot of land to build a mosque.

Uttar Pradesh’s coronavirus tally rose to 77,334, including 29,997 active cases, 45,807 recoveries, and 1,530 deaths, the Union health ministry confirmed on Thursday.

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PM Modi among 200 people to attend Ram temple foundation ceremony on August 5, says trust