The central government has issued standard operating protocols (SOPs) and guidelines for the ongoing Kumbh Mela pilgrimage festival at Uttarakhand's Haridwar.
Marking the beginning of the auspicious Kumbh Mela earlier this week, over 7 lakh devotees took a holy dip in the bank of river Ganga in Haridwar. According to government officials, as many as 7,11,000 devotees performed rituals at Har ki Pairi during the time of aarti.
Notably, the festival is known to attract millions, with the second-largest of such gatherings seen each year at the Haridwar Kumbh Mela after Prayag's.
In view of this, the central government, in its recently-issued guidelines, has directed the state government to oversee that the SOPs are in place during the festivities.
COVID-19 guidelines for Kumbh Mela
All devotees desirous of attending the 'Kumbh Mela' should register with the Uttarakhand government and obtain a compulsory COVID-19 negative medical certificate from the community health centre, district hospital, or the medical college in their state, the guidelines dictate.
On the other hand, state governments have been directed to deploy only those healthcare personnel on duty who have been provided the COVID-19 vaccine shot. Instructions have been issued to vaccinate the healthcare workers who will be on duty at the Kumbh Mela.
The guidelines urge pregnant women, senior citizens above 65 years of age, and people with serious ailments or co-morbidities to not attend the Kumbh Mela this time, if possible, considering the health risks that are involved due to the ongoing pandemic outbreak.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat has already directed the administration's officials to conduct a territorial inspection of the preparation works for the Kumbh Mela.
The chief minister himself was also present during the inspection.
Meanwhile, the state government has said that all COVID-19 health protocols were followed on the first day of the Kumbh and 974 people were fined for flouting the guidelines.
In addition to the radio communication system, concerned authorities have installed over 1,000 CCTV cameras to keep a strict vigil on the entire fair.
Due to the pandemic, this year the Kumbh Mela will be held for 48 days in Haridwar instead of three-and-a-half months. The Maha Kumbh is celebrated in a cycle of 12 years at four river-bank pilgrimage sites. The fair will conclude on April 27.
(With inputs from agencies)