Standard operating procedures, or SOPs, related to the coronavirus pandemic should have been followed “to the letter and spirit” in the Kumbh Mela and rallies in states which went to polls over the last few weeks, Niti Aayog member VK Paul told NDTV on Sunday.

He was responding to a question on violations of basic Covid-related guidelines like wearing masks and maintaining physical distancing at the Kumbh and election rallies, even as coronavirus cases soared across the country.

“We must bring the focus on our behaviour,” Paul said. “There is no place for creating crowd, there is no place for not wearing masks. That is the only way we can break the chain of transmission.”

His comment came a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday said that the Kumbh Mela, which has witnessed a footfall of lakhs of devotees, should now be held as a “symbolic event”. The Akhada Parishad, the top body of the akhadas, or religious clans, taking part in the Mela is yet to announce any substantial decision on the matter, even as the head seer of the Maha Nirvani Akhada died of Covid-19 and many others are infected.

Last week, the Uttarakhand state government officials had ruled out the possibility of curtailing the Kumbh Mela. The government had in fact, moved a plea in the High Court seeking relief on an order to conduct 50,000 tests each day in Haridwar. The order was part of the Standard Operating Procedure prescribed for the Mela by the Uttarakhand High Court.

The violation of Covid-19 protocols has attracted attention from across the world. However, state authorities, including Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat, have tried to downplay the risks.

As for the Assembly elections, Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Saturday said that it was “not right” to link them to the surge in coronavirus cases in the country. Elections have concluded for Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, while three rounds of polling is left in West Bengal.

Despite the worsening situation in India, political leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have been addressing massive rallies and roadshows without masks.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has said it will not hold any more big election rallies for the remaining phases. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has cancelled all his rallies in the state and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has also announced that she will not address any rallies in Kolkata. The BJP, however, is yet to take any such measure.