Kumbh Mela and election rallies: How two super spreader events have contributed to India’s massive second wave of COVID-19 cases
As India battles a second COVID-19 wave and states go for lockdown, election rallies and the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar appear to have compromised efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19
The second wave of COVID-19 in India has proven to be more challenging and aggressive than the first wave of the pandemic, which led to a nationwide lockdown in March last year.
Just over three-and-a-half months into 2021, the daily cases have not only surpassed the high reported in 2020 but more than tripled. The impact of the pandemic is clearly visible across the country with bodies piling up in crematoriums and long queues of ambulances outside hospitals.
The impact of the pandemic is being felt not just in the metro cities, but also in smaller towns — with shortages being reported of beds and oxygen supplies.
As of 22 April, nearly 1.85 lakh people have lost their lives to the pandemic in India. The country also reported over 3.14 lakh new coronavirus cases in a day, the highest-ever single-day count recorded in any country, taking the total tally of COVID-19 cases in the country to 1,59,30,965.
However, despite the severity of the health crisis, election rallies and religious congregations like the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar have continued, raising questions over the seriousness to tackle the spread of the deadly virus.
It was only on 17 April that the organisers of the Kumbh Mela exhorted people not to congregate in large numbers in Haridwar, after an appeal from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
These two events have also emerged as super spreaders with daily cases seeing a nearly 6,000 percent increase between 1 March to 22 April in poll-bound Bengal and by over 450 percent between 1 April when the Kumbh Mela started and 17 April when the religious congregation was called off.
In West Bengal, where polling for the sixth phase ended on Thursday, the state registered its highest single-day spike of 11,948 COVID-19 cases and 56 fresh fatalities.
COVID-19 cases have seen a jump of 3,489 percent in just seven weeks in the state. The state had reported 198 cases on 1 February, but on 16 April, it touched 6,910. Seventeen people died from the virus on Friday. Elections in Bengal are being held in eight phases with voting for the remaining two phases are yet to take place.
Though no other state has seen as exponential a rise in cases as Bengal, the COVID-19 situation is equally worrying in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam as well as the Union Territory of Puducherry — all of which have seen a spike in cases following campaigning for the Assembly polls.
In Tamil Nadu, the daily cases have jumped from 502 on 1 March to 8,449 on 16 April, a jump of 1,683 percent, whereas in Kerala, daily cases have almost tripled from 3,459 on 1 February to 10,031 on 16 April.
Assam where elections were held in three phases with the first phase on 27 March, second phase on 1 April and third phase on 6 April, the daily cases jumped from 13 on 1 February 2021 to 573 on 16 April. This is a 4,407 percent increase in daily cases in just over two and half months.
Over 48.51 lakh people have thronged Haridwar, an important pilgrimage place for the Hindus, for Kumbh Snan, which occurs once in 12 years, following planet Jupiter's transit in Aquarius (Kumbh) sign.
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.
Nearly 2,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the Kumbh Mela area in Uttarakhand’s Haridwar, confirming fears that one of the world's largest religious gatherings may contribute further to the rapid rise in coronavirus cases. In Uttarakhand, the daily cases were at 500 when the Kumbh Mela started. By 17 April, when it was finally called off, the daily cases had grown to 2,757. Steps announced Several steps have also been announced to curb the spread of the virus in the Kumbh Mela as well in election rallies. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the religious congregation should only see symbolic participation due to the COVID-19 crisis.
मैंने प्रार्थना की है कि दो शाही स्नान हो चुके हैं और अब कुंभ को कोरोना के संकट के चलते प्रतीकात्मक ही रखा जाए। इससे इस संकट से लड़ाई को एक ताकत मिलेगी। @AvdheshanandG — Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) April 17, 2021
Modi tweeted that he spoke to Swami Avdheshanand Giri of Juna Akhara over the telephone and inquired about the health of saints, many of whom have contracted the infection, and also conveyed his appreciation for their cooperation with the local administration.
Several seers too have come out in support of the prime minister’s appeal.
भारत की जनता व उसकी जीवन रक्षा हमारी पहली प्राथमिकता है। #कोरोना महामारी के बढ़ते प्रकोप को देखते हुए हमने विधिवत कुम्भ के आवाहित समस्त देवताओं का विसर्जन कर दिया है। #जूनाअखाड़ा की ओर से यह कुम्भ का विधिवत विसर्जन-समापन है।@narendramodi @AmitShah@ANI @z_achryan @TIRATHSRAWAT pic.twitter.com/rOUaqL1egU
— Swami Avdheshanand (@AvdheshanandG) April 17, 2021
Some states like Karnataka have already announced guidelines for districts and municipal corporations when it comes to Kumbh Mela returnees.
After being censured by the Calcutta High Court over the handling of the election amid the second wave of the rise in COVID-19 cases, the Election Commission on 22 April banned roadshows, padayatras and rallies, and restricted the maximum attendees at campaign meetings to 500.
The order was issued on Thursday when polling for 43 seats in the sixth phase of the Assembly Election in West Bengal was held and campaigning for the remaining seventh and eighth phases continued without COVID-19 precautions.
However, seeing the rise in cases, one can only hope that it’s not already too late for damage control.
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A bench of justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli also observed that all big healthcare institutions should mandatorily have their own oxygen-generating plants