The annual festival of Kumbh Mela,
attracting huge crowds in north India, could result in a surge of new COVID-19
cases, as per a warning by the health ministry on Sunday. The ministry called
for testing and other health protocols to be in place in order to tackle any
possible chances of a surge, with the now-shortened festival of 30 days threatening
a rise in infections in the near future, reported AFP.

India is currently the world’s
third-most infected nation, with a total of about 11.6 million
cases recorded up until now.

Also read: Maha Shivratri: First ‘Shahi Snan’ of Mahakumbh in Haridwar, devotees take dip in Ganges

The Kumbh Mela usually lasts three
months, which was brought down to its current 30-day tenure by the government possibly
keeping in mind the pandemic situation in the country.

 The health ministry stated that up to 40
pilgrims and locals were testing positive every day during the festival in
Uttarakhand’s Haridwar.

“This positivity rate has the
potential to rapidly turning to an upsurge in cases, given the expected large
footfall during Kumbh,” the ministry was quoted by AFP as saying.

More than 12 Indian states have shown
a jump in COVID-19 cases in the past few weeks, the ministry said, warning that
some pilgrims could be from these badly affected regions.

Also read: COVID-19: States that imposed fresh restrictions in wake of rising coronavirus cases

Some 50,000 rapid antigen tests and
5,000 RT-PCR tests are being carried out every day at the festival. But the
ministry said more RT-PCR tests needed to be done — particularly in areas
where high transmission appears likely.

Crowd sizes are expected to swell
during three upcoming holy bathing days.

The government also called on
Uttarakhand state authorities to ensure “strict adherence to
COVID-appropriate behaviour”.

There were 43,846 fresh cases
reported in the past 24 hours, the health ministry said Sunday, the highest
single-day rise this year.