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Ahead of Mahakumbh, Centre raises Covid flag

By, New Delhi
Mar 22, 2021 01:16 AM IST

Directs Uttarakhand govt to put in place stringent measures to control spread of virus at congregation

The Centre has raised concern about the potential surge of Covid-19 cases during the upcoming Mahakumbh and directed the Uttarakhand government to put in place stringent measures to control the spread of the viral illness at the religious congregation scheduled to begin in Haridwar on April 1.

Devotees attend evening prayers after Shahi Snan (grand bath) on the occasion of the Maha Shivratri in Haridwar.(Photo by Prakash SINGH / AFP)(AFP)
Devotees attend evening prayers after Shahi Snan (grand bath) on the occasion of the Maha Shivratri in Haridwar.(Photo by Prakash SINGH / AFP)(AFP)

Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote to state chief secretary Om Prakash “strongly highlighting the concerns raised by the high level central team in its visit to Uttarakhand and about the need of stringent measures to control the spread of Covid19 during Kumbh Mela”, the Union health ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

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The development comes a day after Uttarakhand chief minister Tirath Singh Rawat assured devotees that all “unnecessary” restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the Covid-19 will be removed for the event, and asserted that “faith is stronger than fear”. The CM’s statement also comes a time several states, including Maharashtra and Punjab, have introduced restrictions on gatherings and other curbs to stem the viral outbreak.

The director of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr SK Singh, led the high level central team that visited Uttarakhand on March 16-17, 2021, to review the medical and public health preparedness measures undertaken by the state for the event.

Bhushan, in his letter, pointed out that at least 12 states in the country have reported a spike in the daily number of Covid-19 cases in the past few weeks, and that pilgrims who are likely to visit Haridwar for the congregation could also be from among the affected states. There is a “potential of an upsurge in cases in the local population after the auspicious Shahi Snan days during the Kumbh Mela”, the statement read, referring to the Hindu ritual of taking a holy bath in river Ganga.

States such as Maharashta, Punjab, Karnataka, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh accounted for 77.7% of the new cases on Saturday.

The health secretary also said the daily Covid-19 testing of 55,000 people in Haridwar was not enough given the large numbers of pilgrims expected, and that cases were already rising. “This positivity rate has the potential to rapidly turn into an upsurge in cases, given the expected large footfall during Kumbh,” Bhushan said.

Despite a raging pandemic, at least 30 million people are expected to attend the curtailed Mahakumbh (one-month-long), believed to be the largest religious congregation held every 12 years. Normally, 120 million pilgrims attend the congregation that is usually a four-month-long event.

Among other measures that the Centre has advised Uttarakhand are to ensure that Union health ministry’s standard operating procedures issued for the Kumbh are strictly followed, scale up testing in potential high transmission areas, and continue periodic testing of frontline workers before and after the shahi snan days.

The advisory further states that in case of a sudden surge or a super-spreader event (when one infected individual goes on to infect several others), the state administration should promptly send samples for genome sequencing. This could help monitor if the outbreak is due to a variant that may be more infective than the predominant type of Sars-CoV-2.

Much like the trend in the rest of the country, Uttarakhand has been seeing a resurgence of cases in the past month, in what the experts say could be the beginning of second wave of infections. In the past week, the state reported 80 cases a day on average – a rise of 174% from the 29 cases a day (seven-day average) it was reporting in the week ending February 25.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Rhythma Kaul works as an assistant editor at Hindustan Times. She covers health and related topics, including ministry of health and family welfare, government of India.

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