The Centre on Sunday, March 21, expressed its concern over a suspected spike in COVID-19 cases during the upcoming Mahakumbh.
It directed the Uttarakhand government to take stringent measures to minimize the spread of COVID-19 infection during the religious gathering, which is set to commence on April 1 in Haridwar.
Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote to state chief secretary Om Prakash "strongly highlighting the concerns raised by the high-level central team in its visit to Uttarakhand and about the need of stringent measures to control the spread of Covid19 during Kumbh Mela," the Union health ministry said in a statement.
The announcement came a day after Uttarakhand's Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat asserted that all the "unnecessary" constraints imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infection would be lifted for the event, adding that "faith is stronger than fear".
The CM's remarks came amid several states imposing restrictions on public meetings and other measures to combat the virus.
Dr SK Singh, the National Center for Disease Control (NCDC) director, headed a high-level central team that visited Uttarakhand on March 16, 2021, to assess its medical and public health readiness for the event.
In his letter to the state, Bhushan noted that a spike in the daily number of COVID-19 cases had been observed in at least 12 states across the country in recent weeks.
He added that pilgrims expected to visit Haridwar for the gathering might be from one of the affected states. The statement said there was a "potential of an increase in cases in the native population after the auspicious Shahi Snan days during the Kumbh Mela," referring to the Hindu ritual of taking a holy bath in the river Ganga.
On Saturday, states like Maharashtra, Punjab, Karnataka, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh reported 77.7 per cent of new cases.
The health secretary pointed out that the daily COVID-19 testing of 55,000 people in Haridwar was insufficient as many pilgrims are anticipated and that the cases were already on the rise.
Bhushan said, "This positivity rate has the potential to rapidly turn into an upsurge in cases, given the expected large footfall during Kumbh," Hindustan Times reported.
At least 30 million devotees are expected to attend the one-month-long Mahakumbh, the world's largest religious congregation, which takes place every 12 years.
The Centre had urged Uttarakhand to strictly follow the Union Health Ministry's standard operating procedures (SOPs) released for the Kumbh.
It was advised to scale-up testing in prospective high transmission zones and continue frequent frontline employees' testing after the Shahi Snan days.
The advisory also directed the state administration to submit the samples for genome sequencing in case of a sudden surge or a super spreader event. This would help determine whether the outbreak is caused by a more infectious variant or the prevalent type.
Uttarakhand witnessed a spike of cases in the last month, which may be the start of the second wave of infections, as per the experts.