At least 102 devotees have tested positive for the coronavirus at the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, The Indian Express reported on Tuesday. Several lakhs of devotees are visiting the Kumbh Mela each day but only a few are being tested and other basic Covid-19 related protocols such as wearing masks, thermal screening, and checking negative test reports have been ignored.
On Monday, over 28 lakh devotees turned up to take a dip in the Ganges. However, only 18,169 of the pilgrims were tested between 11.30 pm on Sunday and 5 pm on Monday, according to the report.
The Kumbh Mela, which will be held from April 1 to April 30, is expected to be visited by 10 lakh pilgrims each day. The number of devotees visiting the Mela is likely to climb manifold on three days of “shahi snaan” or royal bath – Monday, Wednesday, and April 27.
At the prominent spot of Har Ki Pauri ghat, 13 akharas (religious clans) reached in processions to take the dip. A team of two medical personnel with Rapid Antigen Test kits conducted only 11 tests in six hours on Monday, according to the newspaper. One of those tested turned out to be positive. At a test facility near Mela Bhawan on the route through which the akharas returned, a four-member team of health officials told The Indian Express that not a single test had been conducted on Monday.
Meanwhile, speaking to India Today on Monday, Uttarakhand Director General of Police Ashok Kumar asserted that the Kumbh Mela was not a “super spreader event”. To back his claim, he said that the authorities had tested 53,000 persons visiting the Mela, of which the positivity rate came at 1.5%. Kumar also claimed that “90% of the crowd” that came to the event would not stay at Haridwar and so, they will not spread the virus.
The senior police officer, however, did not elaborate on the possibility of those going back transmitting the virus at their respective locations. He also admitted that it was not possible to follow Covid-19 related protocols completely at an event like the Kumbh Mela.
The checking of negative RT-PCR tests was a mandatory requirement to enter the Mela. However, authorities were lax with this too. Of the 50 devotees who were interviewed by The Indian Express, at least 15 did not have the report, but were let through.
“Our RT-PCR report was checked at the Narsan checkpoint along the Uttar Pradesh border,” Raj Pratap Singh, a government teacher from Madhya Pradesh told the newspaper. “No one asked for it in the Mela area. No thermal screening was done.”
The Mela’s Covid in-charge Avinash Khanna told the newspaper that thermal screening and rapid antigen tests were done at the state borders, railway stations and ghat [river embankment] areas. He, however, added that the tests were put on hold on Monday.
“The ghats were reserved for the akharas today morning, and so tests and screening were not done,” Khanna said. “They will be done again when the snan of akharas will end.”
On a similar note, the event’s Inspector General Sanjay Gunjyal said that challans for not wearing masks and thermal screening were avoided to prevent crowding at any particular spot.