The Jammu and Kashmir administration on Sunday resumed pilgrimages to the Vaishno Devi temple nearly five months after it was suspended in view of the coronavirus outbreak, PTI reported. The gates of the shrine reopened around 6 am.

In the first week of the pilgrimage, only 2,000 devotees will be allowed of which, 1,900 will be from Jammu and Kashmir and 100 will be from outside the Union Territory. Only online registrations were allowed for the pilgrimage.

The pilgrims are directed to use traditional routes – from Katra to Bhawan via Banganga, Adhkuwari and Sanjichhat – to reach the shrine, and take the Himkoti route-Tarakote Marg for their return journey.

“The Vaishno Devi pilgrimage was stopped on March 18 as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and now when the administration had decided to reopen the religious places, the board had taken all necessary measures keeping in mind the challenge posed by the dreaded disease,” said Chief Executive Officer of the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board Ramesh Kumar.

Earlier in the day, Kumar undertook a last-minute inspection at the temple premises to ensure all precautionary measures to contain the disease are in place. An automatic thermal screening point along with hand sanitiser dispensers have been installed at the entry point and the passages have been dotted with circles to maintain physical distancing, he said.

“The pilgrims coming from red zones and outside Jammu and Kashmir would have to undergo Covid-19 test and only those pilgrims with negative reports will be allowed to move towards Bhawan,” Kumar said. “The government has come out with a detailed Standard Operating Procedure and the pilgrims are requested to follow the guidelines for their own safety and the safety of others.”

A massive sanitisation campaign was launched by the temple board before the pilgrimage resumed.

The Jammu and Kashmir administration also reopened other places of worship in the Union Territory from Sunday. However, children below 10 years, pregnant women, persons with comorbidities and those above 60 years have been advised to visiting them for the time being.

Jammu and Kashmir has reported 20,676 coronavirus cases, including 527 deaths as of Sunday, according to the health ministry. India, meanwhile, reported 63,489 new coronavirus cases taking its tally to 25,89,682. The toll was up by 944 to 49,980.