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Pakistan to allow fully-vaccinated Sikh pilgrims to visit Kartarpur Sahib with strict COVID-19 protocols

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has decided to allow fully-vaccinated Sikh pilgrims to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, Kartarpur from next month with strict COVID-19 protocols, ahead of the 482nd death anniversary of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak Dev on September 22, media reports said on Sunday.

On this occasion, three-day rituals will be held at the shrine from September 20. Guru Nanak died in Kartarpur on September 22, 1539.

Pilgrimage to the Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara was suspended in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The decision to open the Kartarpur shrine was taken by the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) on Saturday due to the approaching death anniversary of Sikhism founder Baba Guru Nanak Dev on September 22.

Dawn newspaper reported that the NCOC meeting unanimously decided to allow Sikh pilgrims to visit Kartarpur next month under strict COVID-19 protocols.

Due to the Delta variant, India was in category C in Pakistan from May 22 till August 12, and a special approval was required for people coming from the country, including Sikh pilgrims.

However, fully-vaccinated persons with certificates will be allowed to enter Pakistan provided they show Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test reports which should not be more than 72 hours old.

Apart from this, a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) will also be conducted at airports and in case of a positive result, the individual will not be allowed to enter Pakistan.

Besides, as per Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs), a maximum of 300 people will be permitted to assemble at a time at the darbar.

According to an official of the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS), Pakistan had introduced three categories to deal with the coronavirus spread.

"Countries in category A are exempted from the mandatory COVID-19 test, travellers from areas falling in category B are required to present a negative PCR test that must be taken within 72 hours of the travel date, while visitors from nations in category C are restricted and can travel only under specific NCOC guidelines," the official said.

The movement of pilgrims to Pakistan through the Kartarpur corridor has been suspended since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the neighbouring country banned all travel from India citing the surge in cases here in April this year, Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai told Parliament in New Delhi on August 3.

India signed the Kartarpur corridor agreement with Pakistan on October 24, 2019. Under the pact, Indian pilgrims of all faiths are allowed to undertake round-the-year visa-free travel through the Kartarpur corridor to Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib, one of the most revered shrines of Sikhs, in Pakistan.

The restriction to visit Kartarpur was eased despite the country reporting 3,842 new cases in the last 24 hours, taking the national tally to 1,123,812, according to the health ministry.

The death toll reached 24,923 with 75 more fatalities. The positivity rate was 7.18 per cent, the highest in the last three days.

The vaccination drive was going on and a consignment of 2 million doses of Sinovac vaccine reached Pakistan on Saturday to replenish the stock. So far, 46.45 million doses have been administered in the country.

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PTI