New Delhi: An all-India organisation of priests has requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to reopen temples and pilgrimage centres to help combat the COVID-19 outbreak. They say that novel coronavirus is an asur (demon) and can only be killed by divine forces.

Akhil Bhartiya Tirth Purohit Mahasabha national president Mahesh Pathak said in a letter to the PM on Saturday that if all temples, shrines and pilgrimage centres are reopened, the coronavirus cannot do any harm (kuch nahi bigad sakta hay).

He said the closure of temples has also adversely impacted the economic condition of priests and demanded special financial package for them.

The government has banned congregations and closed temples and other religious sites, besides schools, colleges, malls and factories, to check the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has infected more than 85,000 people and killed over 2,750 in the country so far.

Pathak said India is perhaps facing the wrath of deities as they have been treated at par with factories during the ongoing lockdown.

Coronavirus is an asur (demon) and it can only be killed by divine forces. I am quite sure divinity would rescue devotees from the coronavirus after joint prayers, he told reporters.

He said the closure of temples and shrines has widened the distance between gods and devotees, and the separation cannot be erased through prayers at home.

He said though the portals of Char Dham' temples have been opened in Uttarakhand, entry of devotees has been banned. The deities provide solace to a disturbed mind, he said and demanded that devotees be allowed there.

The opening of the temples under a guideline would also provide some financial support to priests who have been badly hit by the coronavirus-triggered lockdown.

The organisation has requested the prime minister to bring priests and pandas' (religious guides) under the umbrella of an economic package being provided by the government to different categories of people.

A copy of the letter has been sent to Union home minister Amit Shah, Pathak said.