Puri: After opening doors of Shree Jagannath temple for the devotees without COVID-19 Negative Report, Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) Thursday urged Odisha Government to provide COVID-19 vaccines to servitors and their family members on a priority basis.

SJTA Chief Administrator Krishan Kumar in a letter to Additional Chief Secretary, Health and Family Welfare Department, P K Mohapatra emphasized on the necessity of undertaking early vaccination of servitors of the 12th century shrine.

“Devotees are allowed to enter the shrine from January 21, 2021 without insisting upon any COVID-19 negative certificate. It is expected that large numbers of devotees will be visiting daily.

“Therefore, chance of the Sevayats getting infected on account of the virus cannot be ruled out as they will be coming in the close contact with the devotees,” Dr.Kumar said in the letter.

For uninterrupted performance of different ‘Nitis’ (rituals) of the lords inside the temple, it is suggested that all servitors and their families may please be vaccinated on a priority basis, he said.

There are 500 numbers of temple officials who may also be inoculated on priority, he added.

Dr.Kumar wrote the letter to the State Government after the issue was discussed in ‘Chatisa Nijog’ (Servitors’ Association) meeting and it was resolved to move the Government.

At least 18 servitors including three members of the temple management committee have already died of COVID-19 during the pandemic, while about 200 of them have tested positive for the virus so far, a senior servitors said seeking safety for the community.

On the opening day of the entry into the temple without a mandatory COVID negative report, more than 25,000 devotees visited the world-famous shrine, sources said.

SJTA however, has issued a standard operating procedure (SOP) as part of which a devotee has to wear masks at all times, inside and outside of the temple premises.

The SOP also prohibited chewing of tobacco/paan (betel leaf) and spitting in the temple premises, besides devotees have to maintain social distancing and also sanitise their hands before entering the temple.

 It further disallowed taking flowers/bhoga/deepa inside the temple.

 There will be no lighting of deepa inside the temple, the SOP highlighted.

The Temple will remain closed for public darshan on all Sundays in order to sanitize the shrine premises, it added.

A separate queue was made for the senior citizens and persons with disabilities.

Shree Jagannath temple is one of the four “Dhams” or most sacred places of pilgrimages for the Hindus in the country.

The four Dhams are Shree Jagannath Puri in the East, Dwarikadish in the West, Badrinath in the North and Rameswaram in the South