Mr Nautiyal, whose foundation has been tracking the Covid pandemic in the state over the last year, is also worried about the diversion of healthcare staff from other parts of the state towards Kumbh. The state is already facing a shortage of staff, and this diversion of resources may further affect healthcare in other areas, he says.
The Kumbh administration insists it is well prepared. Dr Arjun Sengar, the chief medical officer, says doctors have been called in from other districts, and even from other states and efforts are underway to provide 100,000 rapid antigen tests and 30,000 PCR tests a day.
“In total, we have over 10,000 beds, including over 70 ICU beds and ventilators to provide Covid or non-Covid care. We also plan to test all devotees after each of the ‘shahi snans’ [special dips] on April 12, 14, and 27,” he says. He concedes, however, that the positivity rate is increasing by the day.
On March 24, the Uttarakhand High Court ordered that only those with a negative Covid test should enter the site but by this point hundreds of thousands of pilgrims had already arrived and were camping in the area.
One key area of concern are the Naga Sadhus – Hindu ascetics who have renounced the world and live without any possessions. Ash smeared, dreadlocked and naked, these holy men are believed to be able to counteract the world’s bad karma with their holy practices, and are highly revered.
Digambar Raghav Giri, a Naga Sadhu who has travelled from his cave in central India’s Madhya Pradesh, has not been tested for Covid or been vaccinated but is clearly unhappy with the Covid protocols demanded by organisers.