Ahead of Mahakumbh, Covid cases jump in Haridwar
Rudrapur: The number of new Covid-19 cases in Haridwar, where millions are gathering for the Mahakumbh pilgrimage, has grown by over 250% in the last week compared to the first week of the month, and the test positivity rate on Friday was nearly three times of what it was on March 1, reinforcing fears that the gathering is fuelling a bigger outbreak.
Between 30 and 50 million pilgrims are expected to visit the shortened month-long festival in April. Before the pandemic, over 120 million people were expected to visit a four-month Mahakumbh. The first shahi snan (royal bath) that kicked off the festivities on March 11 was attended by over 3.3 million people. The next is on April 1.
In the first week of the month, 78 new cases were recorded in Haridwar. In the past seven days, this number has grown to 278. But the number of daily tests has not logged any significant increase – there were 4,715 tests on Friday and a little under 4,000 on March 1.
On the first day of the month, only 16 cases were recorded, compared to 58 on Friday –a sharp increase in the positivity rate that is reflected over the week as well.
As on Friday, Haridwar accounts for 385 active cases of total 1,162 in the state.
Officials in other states are now beginning to record infections in pilgrims who went to Haridwar. On Friday, eight people from one family tested positive for Covid-19 in Madhya Pradesh’s Guna district, according to Guna district magistrate Kumar Purshotam.
Chief medical officer Haridwar, Dr SK Jha said on Friday that given the expectation that up to 10 million pilgrims can arrive for the Shahi Snan on April 1, testing capacity is being increased and capacity to isolate pilgrims found positive is being strengthened.
“Those with no negative Covid-19 reports would be returned. And those found positive through random testing would be isolated. We have capacity to isolate over 10,000 people, with the help of private hospitals. The testing on normal days will be increased as per the pilgrim rush and on Shahi Snan days, it can go even beyond 50,000. For last four days, we have been conducting tests of 3,000 to 5,000 people,” Jha said.
The Uttarakhand high court on Wednesday directed the state government to ensure that pilgrims coming for Mahakumbh show a negative RT-PCR test taken not more than 72 hours earlier, after members of the court-appointed committee to check situation and arrangements in Mahakumbh submitted their reports to the court.
On Sunday, Centre wrote to the state, stressing that the positivity rate in Haridwar has the potential to rapidly turning to an upsurge in cases, given the expected large footfall during Kumbh.
On Friday, the administration announced some curbs on celebrations for Holi (which falls on Monday), allowing venues to host only 50% of their capacity and no single event can exceed an attendance of over 100 people.
Anoop Nautiyal, founder of Dehradun-based think tank Social Development for Communities, who has been analysing Covid-19 data for the last year, said the testing numbers in Haridwar need to be scaled up over ten times in accordance with the expectations of the pilgrim influx.
“On Thursday, they tested over 3,900 people. With such low testing at present, what can be the situation when one crore people will turn up. It won’t serve the purpose because even if Covid-19 infection is brought by few people into Kumbh area, it has potential to spread in millions”, he said.