Updated: April 13, 2021 7:48:23 am
TWELVE DAYS into the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar amid a Covid surge across the country, the Uttarakhand government is struggling to keep in place basic preventive measures such as effective thermal screening and wearing of masks.
By Monday evening, over 28 lakh devotees turned up for the second shahi snan (royal bath) in the Ganga. And according to medical department officials, over 18,169 devotees were tested between 11.30 pm Sunday and 5 pm Monday — 102 were found positive.
Over the last 48 hours, The Indian Express walked through an area of over 10 km — from the railway station in Haridwar, the iconic Har ki Pauri and the ghats. There were no arrangements for thermal screening anywhere, and no action against those not wearing masks despite a new AI-enabled CCTV system in place to track them.
In the crushing rush, the first Covid barrier to fall was the mandatory entry norm of Covid-negative RT-PCR test reports. At various checkpoints, The Indian Express counted over 50 devotees being asked about their RT-PCR reports — at least 15 did not have them but were let through.
Raj Pratap Singh, a government teacher from MP’s Bhind who reached Haridwar by car Monday morning, said: “Our RT-PCR report was checked at the Narsan checkpoint along the UP border. No one asked for it in the Mela area. No thermal screening was done.”
Pramod Sharma, a businessman from Jammu, reached Monday morning without the mandatory RT-PCR report. “Passengers for Haridwar were asked to deboard at Jwalapur railway station, about 3 km earlier. But there were a lot of passengers, and no one asked about the RT-PCR report. Later, we took a bath in the Ganga at the Gau ghat. There was no thermal screening anywhere,” he said.
“Thermal screening and rapid antigen tests were done at the state borders, railway stations and ghat areas. The ghats were reserved for the akharas today morning, and so tests and screening were not done. They will be done again when the snan of akharas will end,” the Mela’s Covid in-charge Dr Avinash Khanna said.
“Challans for not wearing masks and thermal screening were avoided today to prevent crowding at any specific location,” Kumbh Mela IG Sanjay Gunjyal said.
“We focused more on crowd management today and hence screening and checking of reports near the ghats were avoided,” another official said.
However, Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat said the state government has ensured the implementation of all Covid guidelines drafted by the Centre. “We have followed the Government of India’s guidelines 100 per cent,” Rawat said.
At Har Ki Pauri, where 13 akharas (religious groups) reached in procession, one by one, for the traditional dip in the Ganga, there was a team of two medical personnel with Rapid Antigen Test kits. In six hours from 9 am Monday, they had conducted only 11 tests with one turning positive. “Those who came to get tested did so voluntarily,” said a staff member, speaking on condition of anonymity.
At a test facility near Mela Bhawan, which is on the return route for the akharas, a four-member medical team confirmed that “not a single test has been done here today”. “We cannot stop them and ask them to get tested,” said one of them.
On Sunday, The Indian Express visited the camps of three akharas — Juna, Avahan and Niranjani. Masks were mandatory for visitors only at the Niranjani akhara where senior functionary Narendra Giri, who is also president of Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad, has tested positive.
“We appeal to all our followers and visitors to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines but the majority is careless,” said Rahul Giriji Maharaj of Avahan. “We have had our camp here since March 27. The administration provided hand sanitisers here for the first time on Sunday.”
The first shahi snan was held on March 11, with over 32 lakh people participating. The next shahi snan is scheduled for Wednesday.
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