BHUBANESWAR: With the Haridwar Kumbh Mela emerging a super spreader event after 1,701 participants tested positive in a span of five days, the fear of returnees contributing further to the rapid rise in cases in Odisha loomed large as thousands from the State take part in the religious event.Warning that the returnees may be carrying mutated strains of SARS-CoV2 which are responsible for the exponential surge in the infections in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, health experts stressed identification and testing once they land here through railway or air routes.
In view of Covid-19, this time the Kumbh Mela was curtailed to one month with three ‘shahi snan’ (royal bath) dates on April 12, 14 and 27. The pilgrims from the State who took part on the two major bathing events are expected to return home in the next few days. Not only the returnees from Kumbh Mela, migrants from Maharashtra, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh and four southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka who have started arriving in the State are also set to become a major challenge for the district administrations.
Health experts said since there is no pre-registration of pilgrims for the Haridwar event unlike Amarnath Yatra, the State government needs to register and track the returnees like previous year and district administrations should open kiosks at the railway stations to ensure proper screening and institutional quarantine of all returnees for not less than 14 days.
“The situation may turn devastating if the mela participants and migrants from high caseload states are allowed to go home without mandatory quarantine. After seven-day quarantine, they must be subjected to RT-PCR, because, an immediate RT-PCR may not help find the positive cases. The double mutant strain prevalent in Maharashtra and some other states is the most dangerous as it infects people very rapidly,” pointed out senior medicine specialist Dr Niroj Mishra.
Although the State government has made negative RT-PCR report obtained 72 hours before travel mandatory for people from outside the State, it is not strictly enforced in most of the railway stations. Travellers manage to escape taking the advantage of slack enforcement due to lack of manpower.
With the screening of returnees becoming a daunting task, government on Thursday directed district officials to constitute rapid response teams and enforce the guidelines. Additional Chief Secretary of Health department PK Mohapatra said the collectors and municipal commissioners have been asked to keep a constant watch on the returnees.