After remaining suspended for five months, Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine was reopened for devotees on Sunday, officials said. The pilgrimage was suspended since 18 March due to Coronavirus pandemic.

The gates of the shrine reopened for the devotees around 6 am and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board (SMVDSB) Ramesh Kumar was seen taking last-minute review of the measures to ensure the safety of the pilgrims from the highly infectious virus.

“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,” Kumar said.

“Two thousand pilgrims will only be allowed to proceed to the shrine daily from today. Out of these, 100 would be from outside J&K and 1,900 devotees would be locals. All outsiders will have to undergo Covid-19 test before they are allowed to undertake the trek to the shrine,” said the officials.

“Thermal scanners have been installed at different places on the trek to Mata’s Shrine. No helpers or ponies will be allowed to move with the devotees who will have to walk the entire trek from Katra base camp,” they added.

In the first week, there shall be a cap of 2,000 pilgrims each day, of which 1,900 would be from Jammu and Kashmir and the remaining 100 from outside.

“The government has come out with a detailed Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and the pilgrims are requested to follow the guidelines for their own safety and the safety of others,” CEO of SMVDSB said while inspecting the automatic thermal screening point which along with hand sanitizer was set up along the entry point dotted with circles to ensure social distancing.

Religious places in J-K were closed following the COVID-19 outbreak. The shrine situated on the Trikuta Hills in Reasi district of Jammu division is the most thronged religious place in Jammu and Kashmir.

Before the pandemic, over 2.40 crore devotees have been visiting the shrine each year.