On April 21, 2021, 134012 positive active COVID-19 cases were present in Haridwar, in comparison to 500 cases in April 1, 2021.
A superspreader event is defined as an event wherein one infected person can transmit a disease to a large number of people.
Joshua LaBaer, MD, Ph.D., a COVID-19 researcher at Arizona State University, told Healthline that superspreading has been documented at many events where there high numbers of people in attendance. A few examples of superspreader events are weddings, funerals, religious gatherings, etc.
The Kumbh Mela is a religious gathering of millions of people in India. Kumbh Mela is an important event that is celebrated four times over the course of 12 years. It is the largest religious congregation in the country, attracting millions of saints, ascetics, visitors, etc.
In January 2021, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had released a Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) concerning the event in January 2021. As stated by the SOP, all pilgrims attending the Mela should have a negative COVID-19 report and should maintain social distancing. All the staff deputed were required to be vaccinated before coming to the event. Moreover, the Maha Kumbh Mela, which was supposed to be held for 3-4 months, was shortened for a month.
The Kumbh Mela 2021, with several restrictions, formally began in Haridwar, Uttarakhand on April 1, 2021, at the same time COVID-19 cases were increasing across the state.
There are three main days of the Kumbh Mela, known as the "Shahi Snan (royal bath)" days – April 12, 14, and 27. On these days, authorities could not control the crowds on these days even though COVID-19 was spreading rapidly across the country.
Indian railways organized 25 special trains on these three days linking Haridwar to various locations for the pilgrims, as reported by PTI.
On 16 and 17 March 2021, a high-level Central Team led by the Director of National Corporative Development Corporation (NCDC) visited Uttarakhand to evaluate the state's medical and public health preparedness measures for the Kumbh Mela. The Central Team reported that 10to 20 pilgrims and 10 to 20 locals were reported positive every day.
On April 6, 2021, during a press conference, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said that the union government issued an SOP addressing the concern of the Mela becoming a super spreader. It was explicitly for practices to be adopted in Kumbh Mela and held a long meeting with the state government's officers to ensure all precautions.
According to Indian Express, despite the Health Ministry's SOP many did not follow guidelines, refused to wear masks, and did not maintain social distancing. It resulted in over 1,700 people being tested positive for COVID-19 in the Mela area from April 10 to 14, 2021. According to a report by the BBC, on March 9, 2021, visitors did not have checks at the Haridwar airport. A senior official in Uttarakhand state told Reuters that "It is already a super-spreader because there is no space to test hundreds of thousands in a crammed city and the government neither has the facilities nor the manpower."
The data by COVID-19 Health Bulletin for Uttarakhand showed that on April 21, 2021, COVID cases were increased to about 4,807 new positive cases were reported with 134012 active cases, compared to April 1, where 500 cases had been reported. On April 15, 2021, The Hindu reported around 1,700 people tested positive for COVID-19 in the Haridwar Kumbh Mela area from April 10 to 14.
Not following the guidelines, refusing to wear masks, or engage in social distancing is one of the main reasons for the increase of the COVID cases during the Kumbh Mela. Though many authorities have published numbers regarding COVID-19 cases, data is still being collected on the number of COVID-19 positive cases that emerged due to the Kumbh Mela.
The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a lot of potentially dangerous misinformation. For reliable advice on COVID-19 including symptoms, prevention and available treatment, please refer to the World Health Organisation or your national healthcare authority.