The state government is stressing on RT-PCR tests, mandatory use of masks and special vaccination drives to combat Covid as Sagar Island (in South 24-Parganas district of West Bengal) prepares to host the Gangasagar, with more than 30 lakh pilgrims turning up to take a holy dip at the confluence of River Ganga and the Bay of Bengal during Makar Sankranti.
The Gangasagar Mela will be held from January 8 to 16 this year and as per estimation, more than 30 lakh people from all across the country will be visiting, braving the Covid pandemic. But the state government and South 24-Parganas district administration have pulled up their socks to ensure all necessary arrangements are in place to check a spike in the infection graph.
More than mandatory is maintaining all protocols when the state witnessed 14,022 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee held a review meeting recently and directed the augmentation of medical facilities to ensure pilgrims do not face any inconvenience in view of the sudden spike.
Earlier, the district administration had planned to set up only 13 RT-PCR testing centres at all the transit points. Now, the number is being increased to 40. A day after the Chief Minister’s meeting at Sagar Island, District Magistrate P Ulaganathan informed that steps have been taken to deploy mobile testing centres. At the same time, around 20 lakh masks will be distributed and close monitoring will be done by volunteers and the police to ensure that no one reaches the Mela or the premises of Kapil Muni Temple without a mask.
Apart from the administration engaging the volunteers, around 6500 of them will be deployed by at least 140 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to ensure better medical care, transportation, accommodation, search and rescue of missing persons, awareness generation for pilgrims.
There will be medical screening camps at Howrah and Sealdah railway stations as well. In view of the Covid pandemic, eight safe homes, 11 quarantine centres, five isolation centres and six wellness centres are being set up.
Around 1,300 beds have been tagged in different hospitals, including ESI Hospital, Diamond Harbour Medical College and sub-division-level hospitals. There are also dedicated 10 ICU beds for pilgrims and a 300-bed Covid hospital is also being set up at Sagar Island. Besides 100 ambulances, one air ambulance and three water ambulances, there will be a dedicated Covid control room to facilitate a Green Corridor for any patient or for the transportation of the body of a Covid patient.
The district that already achieved around 85 percent vaccination of the second dose and has 10 lakh vaccines in stock to be used as and when required. The remaining second dose vaccination will be completed in the days remaining for the Mela to start. Special vaccination drives have been taken up for the sadhus at Gangasagar.
Keeping the present Covid situation in mind, the state government has decided to deploy more doctors, nurses and paramedical staff for the mega fair.
There will be announcements using the public addressing system in languages, including Hindi, Odiya, Telugu, Bengali and English to create awareness among pilgrims urging them to follow Covid norms. Close surveillance using drones will be carried out. Steps have also been taken for the regular sanitisation of public places.
A series of initiatives, including e-Darshan – online broadcasting of Gangasagar Mela 2021, e-Puja – online delivery of prasad, e-Snan – doorstep delivery of holy water, Pilgrims Transport Management System (PTMS), digital strips for missing personnel, mobile app for general information and Covid Watch Software have also been introduced.