Sunday, May 2, 2021

Kumbh mela - Could have been avoidable in COVID era

COVID - Photo Courtesy Wikipedia
Covid was known to strike back; we all saw the waxing and waning of the disease in Europe and North America. Best health systems available anywhere in the world were struggling to catch up with the devastation. Couple of months to 2021, even when the cases were declining in India; we did not have any Covid killer medicines which offer 100% cure. Even with the medicines we had, the vaccination percentage was far less than anything to be called meaningful. Variants – some of which were immune to existing vaccines like were propping up here and there. 

In the middle of all this, India government declared victory against covid. Without any doubt went slow in vaccinations. Restrictions were largely gone, and everything was almost back to normal. What more, federal government and state government of Uttarakhand went ahead with Kumbh mela in Haridwar. Not just government of Uttarakhand; most state governments across northern Indian planes let their people to go there and attend the holy festival. Indian railways even organized 25 special trains for the movement of pilgrims. 

Kumbh Mela

For those who are not aware about Kumbh mela; this is not just any gathering, but the largest gathering of people in a single place anywhere in the world. There are ardh (half) kumbh mela (in every 6 years) and purna kumbh mela. There is no event in the world, with which we can even compare the numbers. During Purna Kumbh mela time, that area temporarily become the largest city in the world leaving Tokyo far behind. This event happens once in every 12 years - synchronized with one complete revolution of Brihaspati (planet Jupiter) around Sun. (Maha Kumbh happens in every 144 years – after 12 purna kumbh melas).

For a long time, we knew Covid can spread; it can spread very fast from people to people. At such dangerous times, government could have made the festival symbolic. People may miss one but will be healthy enough to attend another one. But no Government did not do anything to make it just symbolic. In fact, they worked the other way and published large ads on the newspapers inviting people to attend Kumbh. Declared the event as clean and safe. Remember this is not a one-day event but spread across multiple weeks. 

See couple of statement from administrators,

“I invite all devotees across the world to come to Haridwar and take a holy dip in the Ganga during Mahakumbh. Nobody will be stopped in the name of Covid-19 as we are sure the faith in God will overcome the fear of the virus,” Rawat said. Rawat mentioned here is the Uthrakhad (Haridwar is in Uttarakhand state) chief minister.

"Union education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, who was present with Rawat, said, “In times of the pandemic, Mahakumbh would be the biggest public congregation in the world while following the Covid-19 guidelines.”

Hindustan Times reported that, "According to the data of the Kumbh Mela Force, over 9.1 million pilgrims arrived in Haridwar to take the holy dip in Ganga from January 14 to April 27. The highest gathering of 3.5 million pilgrims was reported for Somvati Amavasya holy dip on April 12. On March 11, when Maha Shivratri was celebrated, 3.2 million pilgrims arrived for the Kumbh bath. As many as 1.3 million pilgrims gathered in Haridwar for another bath on Mesh Sankranti-Baisakhi (April 14)." - Hindustan times April 29, 2021

When governments let such large group of people to gather at a place; then they hardly follow any protocols. Covid protocols do not stand a chance. People go from all over northern India to attend Kumbh in Haridwar and then come back to their home states. There were hardly any protocols for that. 
What more CM Rawat, even told "I invite all devotees across the world to come to Haridwar and take a holy dip in the Ganga during Mahakumbh. Nobody will be stopped in the name of Covid-19 as we are sure the faith in God will overcome the fear of the virus,” Rawat said. - HT

Now we know what is happening across India; from bring almost covid free country, now India is surging ahead in Covid Numbers. Soon she will replace the US as the country with the largest number of cases and probably even in death count. Accusations are already there that, India is severely underreporting the number of deaths by classifying Covid deaths as something else.

If we look at numbers coming from our next-door neighbor – China – hardly anyone believes any of those; no matter whether it is related to economy, or any other statistics. India should not try to go in that direction. If system is hiding the death toll (I am not saying it is, but various reports come out indicates that), we should stop it. Always publish what is right. Otherwise, it is only matter of time, when rest of the world comes with their own estimations.

It is time to avoid other huge gatherings - religious or otherwise. Most important of all, do not declare premature victory; and live as if everything is over. 


PS: Note that, this time Kumbh mela was reduced to a month and scaled-down in the middle.

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