Health experts warned again that allowing the Gangasagar Mela, a religious gathering in West Bengal’s Sagar Island, at a time when the country is in the throes of a third Covid-19 wave, could lead to it becoming a ‘super-spreader’ event.
Experts warned that the Mela, akin to the Kumbh Mela held at Haridwar and Prayag, among other places, which is slated to attract several lakhs of people, could transform into a “hot source of transmission of the coronavirus”.
“It (Gangasagar Mela) will definitely be a super-spreader. There is no doubt of that. Lakhs of people will congregate and we fear there will be violation of Covid-19 safety protocol. This will definitely boost the transmissibility of the virus. This Mela will definitely be a hot source of transmission (of the coronavirus). The number of daily cases will be much more than what we are seeing now,” Dr Anima Halder, principal of state-run Infectious Diseases and Beliaghata General (ID&BG) Hospital told PTI.
In the last seven days, the state has witnessed a massive surge in Covid-19 infections, with the positivity rate shooting to 37 per cent. West Bengal reported over 24,287 infections on Sunday, the highest since the pandemic began. Halder pointed out that the Mela will give an opportunity to asymptomatic infected people to “mix with those yet not infected” in large numbers and that could help the virus spread in geometric progression.
A doctors’ forum had filed a writ petition before the Calcutta High Court seeking a ban on the gathering. The petitioners had sought a direction to the state government not to hold the annual Gangasagar Mela scheduled for January 8 to January 16 on the occasion of Makar Sankranti at Sagar Island, situated about 130 kms from Kolkata.
However, the High Court allowed the Mela to proceed on assurances from the state government that it would take steps to enforce Covid protocols, after ordering that the island be declared a notified area, a committee be set up to monitor the measures taken, and to ensure that only double vaccinated people who have had RT-PCR Covid tests done 72 hours before reaching Sagar are allowed.
Echoing Dr Halder’s apprehensions, Dr Hiralal Konar, one of the conveners of the West Bengal Joint Platform of Doctors, said that there is a very strong possibility of the situation going out of hand and warned the healthcare infrastructure would be severely challenged if that happens.
“Though, we know that the Omicron variant is not as fatal as previous strains, the rate of transmissibility will definitely cause havoc after the congregation has taken place at Sagar Island. This will definitely be a severe challenge to the health infrastructure,” Dr Konar told PTI.
Dr Shanta Dutta, director of the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases, also reiterated the same fear, stating that controlling people and making them follow safety protocols is a tough task in such a big gathering. “Distancing while taking the dip? That will not be possible. So, it will definitely pave the way for the virus to transmit more and more,” Dr Dutta told PTI.
When contacted, Dr Subhrojyoti Bhowmick, Clinical Director, Academics and Research, Peerless Hospital, said, “Yes, I believe that gatherings like Gangasagar Mela are super spreaders and will add fuel to the fire of Covid-19 surge. It is clear that Omicron can infect double dose vaccinated people in the country.”