Gangasagar Mela, which takes place at West Bengal’s Gangasagar (also known as
Sagar Island) during Makar Sankranti every year, begins Saturday despite
repeated calls for cancelling it amid rising COVID-19 cases in West Bengal. The Calcutta High Court on Friday allowed the state government to
conduct the event. The religious event will continue till January 16.

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On Makar
Sankranti, thousands of pilgrims, seers and tourists will gather at Gangasagar
to take a holy dip in the confluence of Ganga and Bay of Bengal, and offer
prayers at the Kapil Muni Temple.

Though the
court allowed the event to go on, it expressed concern regarding the spread of
the virus due to oral and nasal droplets transmitting through river water after
the pilgrims take dips in the confluence. Advocate General SN Mukherjee,
representing the West Bengal government, however, said residents of Gansagar
have been inoculated with both jabs of the COVID-19 vaccine and the situation
is under control now.

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The West
Bengal government said it is not expecting more than five lakhs people to
the fair this year. According to the state government estimates, nearly 30,000
seers have already visited the fair and around 50,000 people, including more
seers, have reached the event ground from various locations of the country.

Calcutta High Court issues order to curb the
spread of COVID-19

The High
Court urged the state government to form a three-member panel comprising the
leader of the opposition at the state assembly, chairman of West Bengal Human
Rights Commission, and representative of the state, to ensure compliance of
Covid-19 measures in the Sagar Island.

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The panel
will make recommendations to the government if it notices any laxity in
compliance. The court also stated that the secretary of the West Bengal Human
Rights Commission will coordinate with the committee members on the matter.

The High
Court, meanwhile, asked the state government to put strong measures against
COVID-19 in Gangasagar. Wearing masks must be mandatory, people must adhere to social
distancing norms and use sanitisers. The same protocols are applicable for
individuals associated with the control and management of the event such as
police personnel, medical personnel, volunteers and government officials.

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As many as
five RT-PCR testing facilities along with some rapid antigen testing centres
must be set up at all entry points, including Howrah and Sealdah railway

Doctors expressed concerns

Though the
court allowed the fair to continue, the Doctors’ Forum said the cases would
rise as the norm of social distancing will go for a toss. It also stated that
the affidavit filed by the state on January 6 to the high court is a mere
eyewash to go ahead with the fair.

The forum
has claimed that the medical facilities made available in the fair premises are
not adequate to cater to lakhs of pilgrims.

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COVID-19 situation in West Bengal

West Bengal
reported as many as 18,213 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, up from 15,421 the day
before. There are 51,384 active cases in the state with the case positivity
rate as high as 26.34%. The number of people hospitalised in the state due to
the virus also saw a rise to 2,444 on Friday from Thursday’s 2,228, according
to the state Covid-19 bulletin data.

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Gangasagar, which comes under the jurisdiction of the South 24 Parganas district, meanwhile, registered 704 new COVID-19 cases on Friday of the overall 18,213
infections. South 24 Parganas is one of the most affected districts in the state apart from
Kolkata, North 24 Parganas, Howrah, Hooghly and Paschim Bardhaman.