Tirumala temple reports huge coronavirus outbreak as cases surge

A relative performs the last rites before the burial of a woman who died due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at a graveyard, in New Delhi, India, August 7, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – A well-known Hindu temple in India has seen more than 700 cases of the novel coronavirus among its staff in the past two months, a temple official said on Monday, as cases in the country surged past 2.2 million.

India reported a near-record 62,064 new cases of the virus in the past 24 hours, according to federal health data released on Monday, taking its total number of cases to more than 2.2 million.

India has fewer cases than only the United States and Brazil, though it has reported a relatively low number of deaths, at fewer than 45,000, although epidemiologists say the peak of its outbreak could be months away.

Cases in India have been spreading from urban areas to smaller towns and the countryside, where health infrastructure is already over-burdened.

The Lord Venkateswara temple in the town of Tirumala in south India, one of the biggest and most wealthy Hindu shrines in the world, said two of its staff and one former employee had died of COVID-19 since June 11, when it reopened to the public after a government lockdown.

In all, 743 temple employees had been infected by the virus, it said.

“We are providing the best medication to those infected. We are taking utmost precaution, social distancing norms are followed, devotees and others are wearing masks,” said the chairman of the temple’s trust organisation, Y. V. Subba Reddy.

It was not clear how many of the temple’s thousands of daily visitors had contracted the virus.

The trust employs about 22,500 workers including 300 priests and controls 10 temples, including the main Venkateswara temple where it employs 36 priests.

India started a phased re-opening after a strict lockdown that was imposed on March 25. Temples and other places of worship were allowed to open in June.

Places of worship draw many thousands of people in India and premises are often cramped, making social distancing difficult.

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