Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Saturday the ongoing Kumbh in Haridwar should now have symbolic participation due to the COVID-19 crisis. The prime minister tweeted that he spoke to Swami Avdheshanand Giri of Juna Akhara over the telephone and enquired about the health of saints, many of whom have contracted the infection, and also conveyed his appreciation for their cooperation with the local administration.
"I spoke to Swami Avdheshanand Giri of Juna Akhara on phone today and asked about the health of all saints. All saints are cooperating with the organisers in all possible ways," the prime minister wrote in Hindi.
"I prayed that two 'shahi snan' have taken place and Kumbh (participation) should now be kept symbolic. This will boost the fight against this crisis," Modi added.
Amid rising coronavirus cases in the country, thousands of saffron-clad seers and ash-smeared Nagas flouted COVID-19 norms and converged at Har Ki Pairi for a holy dip in the Ganga during the second royal bath of the Kumbh Mela on Monday. The seers of different akhadas, led by their Mahamandaleshwaras, by turns took out grand Shobha Yatras through the main thoroughfare of the pilgrimage city to gather at Brahma Kund, Hari ki Pairi for the holy bath on the occasion of Somvati Amavasya.
Meanwhile, responding to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's call, Swami Avdheshanand said, "We respect Prime Minister's appeal. I request the people to not come for snan in large numbers, in the wake of #COVID19 situation, and follow all rules"
COVID-19 situation at Kumbh
Over 1,700 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. Medical workers conducted 2,36,751 tests over the five-day period in the mela site. Out of these, 1,701 came out positive for coronavirus.
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 site extending from Haridwar to Devprayag, Haridwar's 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 site 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 face masks and maintaining 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 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.