Last year, the Kumbha Mela at Haridwar formed a massive super spreader from where the second wave of Covid-19 started all over India. Kumbha Mela, the largest religious gathering in the world, was banned by the Uttarakhand Government, though there was no rule stopping pilgrims from visiting as tourists and bathing in the Ganga river. Due to economic as well as cultural reasons, an unofficial gathering of lakhs of people occurred at Haridwar in April 2021. The result was a massive second wave that killed thousands of people all across India.
Gangasagar is the second largest religious gathering, attracting pilgrims from all over the country. Last year, amidst Covid-19, Gangasagar Mela was banned completely and was done online. This resulted in a fairly low Covid-19 count during January and February. Gangasagar Mela is an annual fair occurring every year, unlike the Kumbha Mela, which occurs every year. Hence, doing without the Gangasagar Mela this year would not have caused many problems to the pilgrims and Government alike. However, the Government has walked the other way and has decided to go on with the Gangasagar Mela this year with strict Covid-19 rules.
It is next to impossible to maintain social distancing at a single small beach where lakhs of visitors will bathe on 14th January 2022. It is also impossible to get all pilgrims masked and sanitized at the same time all over the huge island, whether at temple premises or at the ferry. It is also impossible for the Government to mandate RT-PCR tests for pilgrims when there are numerous entry points and means of transportation to Gangasagar island. Most importantly, the state itself is going through its worst phase of Covid-19, when a huge gathering at Park Street, Kolkata during Christmas has become a super spreader for the new Omicron variant of Covid-19.
Gangasagar Mela can be put on hold for the next year, but the rising Covid-19 cases will lead to massive hospitalization and even death of some of our fellow citizens. Hence it is necessary to avoid the crowd as much as possible during the Gangasagar Mela. It is time to stay at home and make Pitha, a winter delicacy in Bengal. It is time to avoid any large gathering for whatever reason despite double vaccination or negative RT-PCR test, because you may contract the virus anytime from someone else. With record Covid-19 cases in West Bengal, it is up to the visitors and the citizens to control the Covid-19 spread and stop the pandemic once and for all.
Written by – Himadri Paul