As COVID-19 cases spike in Uttarakhand due to the ongoing Maha Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, the Niranjani Akhada on Thursday has announced the end of the Kumbh Mela on April 17. With several saints testing positive for COVID-19, Niranjani Akhada secretary Ravindra Puri announced that after the completion of third 'shahi snan', many devotees and saints have started displaying symptoms of COVID-19. Urging other Akhadas to follow the same, Puri clarified that this was only Niranjani Akhada's decision to end the Kumbh and not the state government's.
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. 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. Medical workers conducted 2,36,751 tests over the five-day period in the mela site. Officials have ruled out cutting short the Kumbh Mela, which is set to last till April 30.
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. 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.
Visuals from Haridwar's Har Ki Pauri ghat for Shahi Snan or royal bath showed thousands flock the ghat mask-less, with all social distancing going for a toss. Moreover, Uttarakhand CM Tirath Singh Rawat slammed comparisons between Kumbha and the Markaz event which has been a superspreader event, requesting all devotees to wear masks and adhere to all social distancing guidelines. Kumbh Mela IG Sanjay Gunjyal said that they are continuously appealing to people to follow COVID-19 appropriate behaviour but it is difficult to ensure social distancing at ghats. The IG added that a stampede-like situation may arise if they would try to enforce social distancing.