Kumbh Mela 2021 kicks off in Haridwar amid Coronavirus scare
Kumbh Mela has started in Uttarakhand’s Haridwar at a time when COVID-19 cases are rising in India
Uttarakhand is hosting one of the largest mass congregations in India at a time when the country is witnessing a massive surge in the daily number of COVID-19 cases. Kumbha Mela 2021 has kicked off in Haridwar on Thursday amid a looming Coronavirus scare across the country.
According to experts, Haridwar and Rishikesh are emerging as COVID-19 hotspots in Uttarakhand as a significant number of tourists tested positive for the disease days ahead of the Kumbh Mela. On Wednesday, 32 devotees who were staying at a hermitage in Haridwar tested positive for COVID-19, following which the local authorities declared the ‘ashram’ a containment zone. The local health department informed that all infected people have been isolated in the school of the hermitage and the place has been sealed for sanitisation. On Monday, more than 75 people tested positive for the virus at a five-star hotel in Rishikesh.
“As per the report of the Central Team, 10-20 pilgrims and 10-20 locals are being reported positive every day. This positivity rate has the potential to rapidly turning to an upsurge in cases, given the expected large footfall during Kumbh,” Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote in a statement to Chief Secretary Uttarakhand on March 21.
Taking note of the development, the Uttarakhand government has issued a new set of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) with the aim of curbing the spread of the virus in the state during the Kumbh Mela.
The government has mandated all saints and devotees coming to attend the congregation to register on the Kumbh Mela web portal. In addition, devotees coming from various states are required to present a negative COVID-19 test report before participating in the Kumbh. They have also been mandated to carry their e-pass/e-permit and a medical fitness certificate in order to attend the celebrations at the pilgrimage. COVID-19 RT-PCR test result and medical fitness certificate would have to be uploaded on the Kumbh Mela web portal during registration in order to receive the e-pass.
During the Mela, all people are required to wear face masks and maintain a distance of 6 feet. Senior citizens above the of 65, children below the age of 10, pregnant women and people with comorbidities have been advised not to participate in the Kumbh Mela.
Meanwhile, enforcement agencies have been instructed to punish and levy penalties for any violations of SOPs imposed to limit the spread of the virus.
The Centre has also called on the Uttarakhand government to ensure strict compliance with COVID-19 measures in order to contain the spread of Coronavirus. The Union Health Ministry has advised the state government to intensify testing in potentially high-risk areas and ensure continuous testing of frontline workers during the Kumbh.
On March 28, around 10,000 police personnel and paramilitary staff, including CRPF and ITBP, pledged to conduct a safe Kumbh Mela and ensure strict compliance with COVID-19 precautionary measures during the mass gathering.
Kumbh Mela 2021 will take place on the banks of the Ganges in Haridwar from April 1 to 30, with three main bathing days “shahi snan” on April 12, 14, and 27.