The Sabarimala temple in Kerala opened for pilgrims on Saturday, for the first time since the lockdown to combat the coronavirus pandemic was imposed on March 25, PTI reported. The temple will stay open for a five-day ‘puja’ and only 250 pilgrims would be allowed to offer prayers in a day.

As many as 246 people booked their pilgrimage through the virtual queue system on the first day. Visuals from the temple showed a thin crowd of devotees, standing far apart and wearing masks. The devotees also had to carry a certificate proving that they did not have Covid-19.

Strict safety arrangements were made for devotees at the shrine. At Nilakkal, the health officials conducted rapid antigen tests for people not carrying the certificates.

The pilgrims also had to produce a document proving that they were fit enough to trek to the hill shrine, Onmanorama reported.

The Kerala government had decided on the protocol for the pilgrimage at a meeting last month, according to PTI. The government had said that only pilgrims between the age of 10 and 60 would be allowed to go to the temple.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had also directed the officials to make special arrangements for rituals like Neyyabhishekam (ghee abhishekam, an offering to the deity Ayyappa) and Annadanam (the tradition of offering food), in accordance with safety protocols.

The government had also decided to not give devotees the permission for customary bathing at Pamba River. Overnight stay at “sannidhanam” (main temple premises) or the base camps was also discontinued.

Kerala has seen a surge in coronavirus cases over the past month. The state has reported over 3 lakh cases so far, including 1,113 deaths.

On Friday, the Union health ministry sent high-level central teams to Kerala and four other states where cases are rising rapidly. The Centre said these teams would support the state towards strengthening containment, surveillance, testing, infection prevention and control measures, and efficient clinical management of the positive cases.