‘COVID Tests, Distancing: Gangasagar Mela 2021 Through Our Lens’
The pilgrimage site has various COVID guidelines in place this year.
Each year, thousands of devotees gather at Sagar Island on Makar Sankranti and take a dip at the confluence of the Ganga and the Bay of Bengal. This marks the beginning of Gangasagar Mela, considered the second largest public congregation after the Kumbh Mela.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the West Bengal government has decided to put in place several guidelines to be followed by devotees. For example, several camps have been set up for testing and quarantine of pilgrims. As per guidelines, those with symptoms are to be tested before entering.
The state’s public health engineering department has constructed a testing centre at Babughat. The Kolkata Municipal Corporation has declared the area a containment zone ahead of the rush. The Gangasagar Mela will culminate on 16 January.
When we visited the site on 12 January, we saw pilgrims undergo a rapid antigen test at the entrance. There is also temperature checks for all visitors, and only those without symptoms, or those who test negative are allowed to proceed to Gangasagar.
Media personnel who were present to document the congregation were subjected to checks as well.
Several KMC doctors are present at the site for the service of the pilgrims. One team of medical officers has been dedicated for health check-ups, while another for conducting COVID tests.
However, we observed that it was tough to maintain the staggered entry or social distancing due to the inflow of devotees.
Many workers and police officers are also deployed to check whether COVID guidelines are being followed.
Since devotees have travelled from across India, some even from Nepal, shelters have been made for them to quarantine and then commence their journey. Langars are also being provided for pilgrims.
A KMC official told us that while footfall is less, as compared to previous years, the numbers are high and some of them are not cooperative.
While there have been concerns raised regarding the pilgrimage this year, the government is warning people to maintain COVID protocols during their journey.
Health experts say that the devotees should avoid going unless absolutely necessary. The Calcutta High Court on 13 January laid emphasis on the need for 'e-snan (e-bathing) to avoid crowding. Whether or not devotees will be able to take a dip in a staggered way remains to be seen.
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