Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) head Ajay Kumar Jena said on Tuesday that 404 staffers, including 351 servitors and 53 employees, at the shrine have tested positive for the coronavirus. Most of the infected staffers are getting treated in home isolation, while 16 of them are admitted to the hospital.

“While nine of these patients have succumbed to the virus, 16 are undergoing treatment at the Covid-19 hospital in Odisha’s capital city Bhubaneswar,” Jena said as quoted by India Today.

However, the daily rituals at the Lord Jagannath temple will continue despite absence of the infected servitors. The temple is not allowing devotees to enter the premises since March.

According to Jena, the temple is facing shortage of priests for everyday rituals. As many as 13 priests engage in these rituals for Lord Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra and Lord Jagannath. Three time a day means 39 priests are required on everyday basis.

The non infected servitors do not want to risk anyone’s life and have requested the temple to not allow devotees until November.

“Of 822 samples collected from servitors/officials of Puri Srimandir, 379 have tested positive for Covid-19. Despite the grim situation, rituals of Lord Jagannath are underway without pause, but these may be disrupted in case of more infection,” the government said in a counter-affidavit.