As many as 743 employees of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams tested positive for the coronavirus since the Tirumala Venkateswara temple in Andhra Pradesh was reopened on June 11, PTI reported on Sunday. Three employees of the temple have succumbed to Covid-19 so far, the trust’s Executive Officer Anil Kumar Singhal said.

Among those who contracted the infection were personnel of the special protection force, vigilance department, sanitation workers, outsourced as well as regular workers, Singhal said, according to The News Minute. “A total of 402 people have recovered so far,” he added.

Singhal said about 2.38 lakh pilgrims had visited the shrine in July. The temple has been allowing darshan to 12,000 devotees every day since it reopened on June 11.

The temple trust official also denied reports that it was reopened amid the coronavirus outbreak to make profit. “Initially everyone appreciated the move of TTD,” he was quoted as saying by The New Indian Express. Singhal added that the temple was blamed once the cases began to increase and suspected people with vested interests to be behind the rumours.

Singhal claimed the temple’s trust was spending more money in taking precautionary measures to contain the spread of Covid-19, than it was earning as revenue. “So far, devotees [have] expressed immense satisfaction over the arrangements of darshan, accommodation, Kalyana Katta, laddu, annaprasadam and other facilities made by TTD,” he added. “The cases have not increased in Tirupati alone, but the entire state as well [and] the country is facing a similar problem.”

A controversy had erupted last month over the decision of the temple trust to keep the Tirumala shrine open during the outbreak of the coronavirus, after several workers tested positive. The former head priest of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam Srinivasa Dikshitulu had died of the disease on July 17. An advisor of the trust, AV Ramana Dikshitulu, and many others urged the temple’s authorities to shut the shrine for some time to protect the priests.

However, YV Subba Reddy, the temple trust’s chairperson, had said the temple management was “monitoring the situation”, and that the shrine will remain open. He had added that around half of them had recovered, and that there was no evidence of pilgrims testing positive.

Andhra Pradesh has reported 1,38,712 coronavirus cases, including 2,036 deaths so far, according to the Union health ministry. India on Monday registered 62,064 new cases, taking the overall tally to 22,15,074. The toll for the first time rose by 1,007 to 44,386.

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