The northern Indian state that hosted the super-spreader Kumbh Mela earlier this year doesn’t seem to care much about the Covid-19 pandemic even now.
Earlier today (June 29), the Uttarakhand government postponed the Char Dham Yatra—a Hindu religious trip spanning four destinations, Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamunotri, and Gangotri—that it was set to host from July 1. The state has not cancelled the event despite a June 28 ruling from the Uttarakhand high court that said hosting the event would be like “inviting a catastrophe again.”
Typically, over 380,000 pilgrims undertake the Char Dham Yatra every year.
The Kumbh Mela in April had led to a massive outbreak of Covid-19 cases in the Himalayan state. Over half the state’s 200,000-plus Covid case tally till the end of May were clocked in just the one-month period of Kumbh. Almost three in five Covid deaths in Uttarakhand happened in May 2021 after the Kumbh Mela.
In fact, the event is widely believed to have contributed to the deadly second wave of the pandemic in India.
This year’s pilgrimage was initially scheduled to take place in May but was delayed due to the deadline the second wave of Covid-19.
When the July dates were announced, the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled state decided it would not be open to outsiders. Only locals from three districts—Chamoli, Uttarkashi, and Rudraprayag—could travel with a mandatory negative Covid-19 test report.
However, preparations were still too lax.
In mid-June, the state’s high court had ordered the government submit the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for Char Dham, but it was not convinced by the “absolutely vague affidavits” filed, chief justice RS Chauhan said. The court, which recommended temples to live stream their prayer ceremonies for devotees, has asked the government to file the affidavit again by July 7.
The court’s concerns are not misplaced.
The SOPs for the Kumbh Mela in April were too little too late. People violated mandates to wear masks and socially distance throughout. Two labs are currently embroiled in a scam for carrying out 100,000 fake Covid tests to meet the daily testing criteria.