An estimated three lakh pilgrims have reached Sagar Island on the occasion of Makar Sankranti to take a holy dip at the confluence of river Ganga and the Bay of Bengal.
RT-PCR tests conducted on the pilgrims as part of the measures to check the spread of the coronavirus at Gangasagar Mela found that 0.63 per cent of them were infected.
West Bengal, which has a positivity rate of over 30 per cent, is seeing hundreds of thousands of devotees from across the country arrive in the South 24 Parganas district to participate in the Hindu pilgrimage.
On Thursday, Bengal reported 23,467 fresh Covid cases in 24 hours, a jump of 1,312 infections from the previous day’s daily cases.
A Calcutta High Court division bench comprising Chief Justice allowed the annual fair to take place from January 8 to 16. A committee appointed by the Calcutta High Court to review compliance with COVID-19 norms at the Gangasagar Mela submitted its preliminary report on Thursday and reportedly raised questions about the arrangements of the West Bengal government.
The committee has reportedly raised several issues concerning the health of the pilgrims thronging the fair. The committee members are also learnt to have been dissatisfied with the infrastructure raised by the Mamata Banerjee government and have recommended that the entry of pilgrims must be restricted to contain the spread of the virus.
Concerned that the Mela would become a ‘super spreader’ event, doctors had appealed to the state’s High Court to reverse the decision to allow the festival this year. The court, nevertheless, allowed the event to go ahead.
State minister Shashi Panja, who is in Gangasagar to monitor the preparations for the event, said, “We all are trying our best to ensure that the court orders are followed and COVID-19 protocol is maintained. It is a collective effort by district and state administration.”
The positivity rate in the state rose to 32.13 per cent from 30.86 per cent on Wednesday.
This number is well above the nation’s overall positivity rate of 14.78 per cent, as of Friday morning.
As part of the restrictions at the Gangasagar Mela, the administration pressed in ‘Covid-safe’ drones, which were seen buzzing over devotees, spraying them with holy water in a twist to the traditional bath in which people take a dip in water. Only those with a negative RT-PCR report within 72 hours are being permitted to take part in the festivities.
The restrictions notwithstanding, countless pilgrims were seen immersing themselves in the Ganga.
Given the known dangers associated with the event, the state government has come under fiery criticism for giving the annual event the permission to go ahead.