Mahakumbh may turn into a superspreader event: Experts - Hindustan Times

Mahakumbh may turn into a superspreader event: Experts

By, Hindustan Times, Dehradun
Mar 17, 2021 05:14 AM IST

A high-level central team has been deployed to Haridwar to review medical care and public health arrangements for the event, which is scheduled to begin on April 1.

The Mahakumbh, considered the largest religious congregation in the world, could potentially turn into “superspreader event” as the Uttarakhand government has removed Covid-19 restrictions for the gathering at a time when a surge in infections being reported from several states, experts warned on Tuesday.

Devotees attend a Kumbh Aarti at Har ki Pauri, in Haridwar on Tuesday.( ANI)
Devotees attend a Kumbh Aarti at Har ki Pauri, in Haridwar on Tuesday.( ANI)

Images of the first “shahi snan” (holy bath) on March 11 at the Mahakumbh in Haridwar showed visitors gathered in large groups as 3.3 million attended the event without any Covid-19 norms. Experts and former chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat said that with an alarming increase in cases in some states, infected visitors could trigger large clusters of Covid-19 cases in the state.

A high-level central team has been deployed to Haridwar to review medical care and public health arrangements for the event, which is scheduled to begin on April 1.

An announcement by Uttarakhand chief minister Tirath Singh Rawat to not ask for negative Covid-19 test reports from visitors came even as the hill state reported a consistent increase in infections over the last week.

Experts and social activists said by the making the event free for all, the chief minister was treading on a dangerous path. “This is the time of caution when cases are again on rise. This is not the time of populist decisions on such issues when the lives of people across the country are at stake,” Anoop Nautiyal, founder of Dehradun-based think tank Social Development for Communities, said, adding that the infections could spread to remote areas quickly from the gathering.

Uttarakhand has so far reported 97,866 Covid-19 cases, of which 14, 410 cases are from the Haridwar district. At present, Haridwar has the most active cases of all 13 districts in the state, with 207 active infections of the total 581.

The Mahakumbh attracts most visitors on days of “shahi snan”. The first was on March 11 and the remaining three are on April 12, April 14 and April 27.

Covid-19 cases are rising nationally and experts warn that in the absence of health care restrictions, visitors from states with high caseloads could lead to new clusters.

Trivendra Singh Rawat, who recently resigned from the chief minister’s post, said: “On Sunday, 25,000 Covid-19 infections, highest in 2021, have been recorded, so we need to be more cautious in organising mega religious fairs such as the Mahakumbh.” “Risk cannot be taken at this stage at such a global fair,” he added.

The central government has deployed a three-member team from National Centre for Disease Control to Haridwar which will review the situation on the ground. “With 3.3 million pilgrims visiting Haridwar recently, the Centre has sent a team to assess the situation at the ground level, to understand what is happening there and what needs to be done in the coming weeks when we are expecting major rush of tourists, which can even reach a crore on the day of the shahi snans. We have to fine-tune our preparation keeping in mind these huge numbers and ensure Covid-19 doesn’t spread here, as the same could be very problematic,” said SK Jha, chief medical officer, Haridwar.

PS Chauhan, a Haridwar-based religious scholar, said the state government’s decision against strict Covid-19 curbs could lead to a hot spot of infections, which could then spread across the state. “Mahakumbh can emerge as a superspreader and we need to stop such a possibility,” he said.

Harbeer Singh, additional mela officer, said that despite their best efforts, the authorities could not implement restrictions in the case of naga sadhus. “But in case of other pilgrims, we are making our best efforts within the limitations of our resources and manpower against such huge pilgrim influx,” he said.

Uttarakhand chief minister Tirath Singh Rawat has announced that negative Covid-19 reports are not necessary to participate in the upcoming ‘shahi snans’ during the event. “Devotees were afraid that they will not be allowed to enter if their Covid-19 report will not be negative. On this, I confirmed that the report is not needed,” Rawat told ANI on Monday. “Around 3.2-3.3 million devotees participated in first ‘shahi snan’ and they left for their home peacefully,” he added.

On his visit to Haridwar on March 11, the chief minister directed officials that visitors should not face any problem while entering Haridwar for the religious event. The Mahakumbh unofficially kicked off with the first holy bath, although the event itself has been officially curtailed to 30 days (April 1 to April 30) this year on account of the pandemic.

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