Over 1,700 test positive for COVID-19 but no plans to cut short Kumbh Mela

Malini T
·6 min read

A total of 1,701 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the Haridwar Kumbh Mela area from April 10 to 14 confirming fears that one of the world's largest religious gatherings may contribute further to the rapid rise in coronavirus cases.

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TOPSHOT - A Sadhu bathes in the Ganges river during the ongoing religious Kumbh Mela festival in Haridwar on April 12, 2021. (Photo by Xavier GALIANA / AFP) (Photo by XAVIER GALIANA/AFP via Getty Images)
A Sadhu bathes in the Ganges river during the ongoing religious Kumbh Mela festival in Haridwar on April 12, 2021. (Photo by XAVIER GALIANA/AFP via Getty Images)
Naga Sadhus (Hindu holy men) take a holy dip in the waters of the Ganges River on the day of Shahi Snan (royal bath) during the ongoing religious Kumbh Mela festival, in Haridwar on April 12, 2021. (Photo by Money SHARMA / AFP) (Photo by MONEY SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images)
Naga Sadhus (Hindu holy men) take a holy dip in the waters of the Ganges River on the day of Shahi Snan (royal bath) during the ongoing religious Kumbh Mela festival, in Haridwar on April 12, 2021. (Photo by MONEY SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images)
Naga Sadhus (Hindu holy men) take a holy dip in the waters of the Ganges River on the day of Shahi Snan (royal bath) during the ongoing religious Kumbh Mela festival, in Haridwar on April 12, 2021. (Photo by Money SHARMA / AFP) (Photo by MONEY SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images)
Naga Sadhus (Hindu holy men) take a holy dip in the waters of the Ganges River on the day of Shahi Snan (royal bath) during the ongoing religious Kumbh Mela festival, in Haridwar on April 12, 2021. (Photo by MONEY SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images)
Naga Sadhus (Hindu holy men) take a holy dip in the waters of the Ganges River on the day of Shahi Snan (royal bath) during the ongoing religious Kumbh Mela festival, in Haridwar on April 12, 2021. (Photo by Money SHARMA / AFP) (Photo by MONEY SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images)
Naga Sadhus (Hindu holy men) take a holy dip in the waters of the Ganges River on the day of Shahi Snan (royal bath) during the ongoing religious Kumbh Mela festival, in Haridwar on April 12, 2021. (Photo by MONEY SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images)
Naga Sadhus (Hindu holy men) take a holy dip in the waters of the Ganges River on the day of Shahi Snan (royal bath) during the ongoing religious Kumbh Mela festival, in Haridwar on April 12, 2021. (Photo by Money SHARMA / AFP) (Photo by MONEY SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images)
Naga Sadhus (Hindu holy men) take a holy dip in the waters of the Ganges River on the day of Shahi Snan (royal bath) during the ongoing religious Kumbh Mela festival, in Haridwar on April 12, 2021. (Photo by MONEY SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images)
Devotees sit and pray in the evening on the ghats of the Ganges River during Kumbh Mela, or pitcher festival, one of the most sacred pilgrimages in Hinduism, in Haridwar, northern state of Uttarakhand, India, Monday, April 12, 2021. Tens of thousands of Hindu devotees gathered by the Ganges River for special prayers Monday, many of them flouting social distancing practices as the coronavirus spreads in India with record speed. (AP Photo/Karma Sonam)
Devotees sit and pray in the evening on the ghats of the Ganges River during Kumbh Mela, or pitcher festival, one of the most sacred pilgrimages in Hinduism, in Haridwar, northern state of Uttarakhand, India, Monday, April 12, 2021. Tens of thousands of Hindu devotees gathered by the Ganges River for special prayers Monday, many of them flouting social distancing practices as the coronavirus spreads in India with record speed. (AP Photo/Karma Sonam)
Police women clear a ghat as a Hindu holy man sits during Kumbh Mela, or pitcher festival, one of the most sacred pilgrimages in Hinduism, in Haridwar, northern state of Uttarakhand, India, Monday, April 12, 2021. Tens of thousands of Hindu devotees gathered by the Ganges River for special prayers Monday, many of them flouting social distancing practices as the coronavirus spreads in India with record speed. (AP Photo/Karma Sonam)
Police women clear a ghat as a Hindu holy man sits during Kumbh Mela, or pitcher festival, one of the most sacred pilgrimages in Hinduism, in Haridwar, northern state of Uttarakhand, India, Monday, April 12, 2021. Tens of thousands of Hindu devotees gathered by the Ganges River for special prayers Monday, many of them flouting social distancing practices as the coronavirus spreads in India with record speed. (AP Photo/Karma Sonam)
Devotees take holy dips in the river Ganges during Shahi snan or a Royal bath at Kumbh mela, in Haridwar in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, Monday, April 12, 2021. As states across India are declaring some version of a lockdown to battle rising Covid cases as part of a nationwide second-wave, thousands of pilgrims are gathering on the banks of the river Ganga for the Hindu festival Kumbh Mela. The faithful believe that a dip in the waters of the Ganga will absolve them of their sins and deliver them from the cycle of birth and death. (AP Photo/Karma Sonam)
Devotees take holy dips in the river Ganges during Shahi snan or a Royal bath at Kumbh mela, in Haridwar in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, Monday, April 12, 2021. As states across India are declaring some version of a lockdown to battle rising Covid cases as part of a nationwide second-wave, thousands of pilgrims are gathering on the banks of the river Ganga for the Hindu festival Kumbh Mela. The faithful believe that a dip in the waters of the Ganga will absolve them of their sins and deliver them from the cycle of birth and death. (AP Photo/Karma Sonam)
A devotee pours milk as they gather to take holy dips in the Ganges River during Kumbh Mela, or pitcher festival, one of the most sacred pilgrimages in Hinduism, in Haridwar, northern state of Uttarakhand, India, Monday, April 12, 2021. Tens of thousands of Hindu devotees gathered by the Ganges River for special prayers Monday, many of them flouting social distancing practices as the coronavirus spreads in India with record speed. (AP Photo/Karma Sonam)
A devotee pours milk as they gather to take holy dips in the Ganges River during Kumbh Mela, or pitcher festival, one of the most sacred pilgrimages in Hinduism, in Haridwar, northern state of Uttarakhand, India, Monday, April 12, 2021. Tens of thousands of Hindu devotees gathered by the Ganges River for special prayers Monday, many of them flouting social distancing practices as the coronavirus spreads in India with record speed. (AP Photo/Karma Sonam)
Devotees take holy dips in the Ganges River during Kumbh Mela, or pitcher festival, one of the most sacred pilgrimages in Hinduism, in Haridwar, northern state of Uttarakhand, India, Monday, April 12, 2021. Tens of thousands of Hindu devotees gathered by the Ganges River for special prayers Monday, many of them flouting social distancing practices as the coronavirus spreads in India with record speed. (AP Photo/Karma Sonam)
Devotees take holy dips in the Ganges River during Kumbh Mela, or pitcher festival, one of the most sacred pilgrimages in Hinduism, in Haridwar, northern state of Uttarakhand, India, Monday, April 12, 2021. Tens of thousands of Hindu devotees gathered by the Ganges River for special prayers Monday, many of them flouting social distancing practices as the coronavirus spreads in India with record speed. (AP Photo/Karma Sonam)
Devotees sit and pray in the evening on the ghats of the Ganges River during Kumbh Mela, or pitcher festival, one of the most sacred pilgrimages in Hinduism, in Haridwar, northern state of Uttarakhand, India, Monday, April 12, 2021. Tens of thousands of Hindu devotees gathered by the Ganges River for special prayers Monday, many of them flouting social distancing practices as the coronavirus spreads in India with record speed. (AP Photo/Karma Sonam)
Devotees sit and pray in the evening on the ghats of the Ganges River during Kumbh Mela, or pitcher festival, one of the most sacred pilgrimages in Hinduism, in Haridwar, northern state of Uttarakhand, India, Monday, April 12, 2021. Tens of thousands of Hindu devotees gathered by the Ganges River for special prayers Monday, many of them flouting social distancing practices as the coronavirus spreads in India with record speed. (AP Photo/Karma Sonam)
Devotees  take holy dips in the Ganges River during Kumbh Mela, or pitcher festival, one of the most sacred pilgrimages in Hinduism, in Haridwar, northern state of Uttarakhand, India, Monday, April 12, 2021. India is experiencing its worst pandemic surge, with average daily infections exceeding 130,000 over the past week. The federal government has allowed huge gatherings during Hindu festivals like the Kumbh Mela where millions of devotees daily take a holy dip into the Ganges river. In response to concerns that it could turn into a “superspreader” event, the state's chief minister, Tirath Singh Rawat, said “the faith in God will overcome the fear of the virus.
Devotees take holy dips in the Ganges River during Kumbh Mela, or pitcher festival, one of the most sacred pilgrimages in Hinduism, in Haridwar, northern state of Uttarakhand, India, Monday, April 12, 2021. India is experiencing its worst pandemic surge, with average daily infections exceeding 130,000 over the past week. The federal government has allowed huge gatherings during Hindu festivals like the Kumbh Mela where millions of devotees daily take a holy dip into the Ganges river. In response to concerns that it could turn into a “superspreader” event, the state's chief minister, Tirath Singh Rawat, said “the faith in God will overcome the fear of the virus." (AP Photo/Karma Sonam)

The numbers include both RT-PCR and Rapid Antigen Test reports of devotees and seers of different akharas (ascetic groups) over the five-day period in the entire Mela Kshetra extending from Haridwar to Devprayag, Haridwar Chief Medical Officer Shambhu Kumar Jha said on Thursday.

More RT-PCR test reports are awaited and the trend shows that the number of infected persons in the Kumbh Mela Kshetra is likely to climb to 2,000, he said.

The Kumbh Mela area is spread over 670 hectares covering parts of Haridwar, Tehri and Dehradun districts, including Rishikesh.

A majority of the 48.51 lakh people who took part in the last two royal baths (Shahi Snan) held on the occasion of Somwati Amavasya on April 12 and Mesh Sankranti on April 14 were seen openly violating COVID norms like wearing of face masks and social distancing.

Despite their best efforts, the police could not impose the standard operating procedures (SOPs) on the seers of akharas and the ash-smeared ascetics thronging Har Ki Pairi ghat on the two major bathing days due to severe time constraints.

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As the 13 akharas had to take their holy dip at Har ki Pairi in accordance with their allotted time slots before sunset, the police and paramilitary personnel were hard-pressed to ensure each of them vacated the ghat before the arrival of the next akhara in line to prevent chaos.

As seers were averse to undergoing RT-PCR tests till the Mesh Sankranti Shahi Snan of April 14, both testing and inoculation in the Kumbh Kshetra including the areas allocated to the akharas are likely to be stepped up in the coming days, Jha said.

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