30 sadhus participating in the mega Kumbh Mela at Uttarakhand’s Haridwar have tested positive for COVID-19, including Mahant Narendra Giri, the leader of the All India Akhada Parishad, who has been admitted to the AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Sciences) in Rishikesh.
Another prominent sadhu – Swami Kapil Dev from Madhya Pradesh, who was the leader of the Maha Nirvani Akhada, died while being treated for a coronavirus infection at a private hospital in Dehradun; he had been transferred from a facility in Rishikesh.
And the Niranjani Akhada – the second largest of more than 13 religious groups at the Kumbh – has indicated they will end participation on Saturday, nearly two weeks before the schedueld close.
“Till now, 30 sadhus have tested positive for COVID-19. The cases are not in any specific akhada. There are cases in almost all the akhadas, including Niranjini, Juna and others,” said Dr SK Jha, Haridwar Chief Medical Officer.
“In view of the deteriorating situation due to COVID-19, Kumbh Mela has concluded for us… main ‘shahi snan‘ (‘royal bath’) is over for us and many from our akhada are showing symptoms of coronavirus,” Ravindra Puri, the Niranjani Akhada’s Secretary, was quoted by news agency ANI.
All of this happened as a Thursday night report from ANI confirmed that 2,167 people from the Kumbh area had tested positive for the coronavirus in the first five days – April 10 to 15.
The next significant Kumbh day is April 27.
The decision to go ahead with the Haridwar mega Kumbh – even as a deadly new Covid wave sweeps the country – has proven to be a controversial one for the state and central governments, with medical experts and opposition leaders warning of the event becoming a ‘super-spreader’.
The sight of hundreds of thousands of devotees – many without face masks – standing shoulder-to-shoulder along the banks of the Ganga has escalated concerns about an exponential rise in coronavirus cases – both at the spot and across the country, as attendees return home.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat, however, has defended holding the Kumbh, saying that guidelines – which include the use of face masks and social distancing – were being followed.
On Wednesday, reports that the akhadas – which wield enormous power and influence – had agreed to call off the Kumbh in the face of mounting health concerns were quickly dismissed. Officials insisted no talks had taken place, and that the Kumbh would continue as scheduled.
On Thursday, the country reported over two lakh Covid cases in 24 hours for the first time ever.
On Thursday night, Uttarakhand reported 2,200 cases in 24 hours – its biggest single-day spike the pandemic began in December 2019. On Wednesday the state reported 1,953 cases in 24 hours.
(With inputs from ANI)