Uttarakhand suspends Char Dham Yatra; only priests to perform rituals
The Uttarakhand government has suspended the Char Dham Yatra in light of the COVID-19 situation, Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat announced on Thursday. The pilgrimage—which covers the four Himalayan shrines of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamunotri, and Gangotri—was scheduled to start from May 14. The decision comes after the state's refusal to suspend the recent Kumbh Mela drew international criticism. Here are more details.
CM Rawat told reporters on Thursday that no pilgrims/devotees will be allowed to participate in the Char Dham Yatra as the COVID-19 situation worsens. Even locals will not be allowed inside the shrines, the CM said, adding that only the priests will be allowed to perform rituals and worship. The decision was taken at an afternoon meeting regarding the pilgrimage.
At least until last week, the state government was considering moving forward with the pilgrimage with certain guidelines in place including a mandatory negative RT-PCR test. Notably, the test is not 100% accurate, with some experts suggesting that the new virus variants are evading the test. An infected person may also test negative during the incubation period of the virus.
The Char Dham Yatra attracts lakhs of pilgrims each year, starting from the west from Yamunotri, then proceeding to Gangotri, and finally to Kedarnath and Badrinath in the east. This year, the Yamunotri shrine will be opened on May 14 at 12:15 pm, followed by the Gangotri shrine on May 15 at 7:30 am, Kedarnath on May 17, and Badrinath on May 18.
Last year, the pilgrimage did not commence as scheduled on April 26 as India was still under a complete lockdown at the time. The shrines were opened for local pilgrims on July 1 last year. Pilgrims from other states were allowed in the last week of July. Later in September, the state government removed the mandatory requirement for negative RT-PCR tests.
The Mahakumbh Mela in Haridwar drew a crowd of millions over April. Even as India continued to report a slew of record spikes in infections, there was no timely action and COVID-19 precautions were flouted. According to Mirror Now, over 5,037 tested positive between April 1 to April 17, while nine died. There has been no update on infections specific to the event thereafter.
However, active infections in Uttarakhand rose from 2,236 on April 1 to 45,383 on Wednesday. On Wednesday, the state reported the highest single-day spike of 6,054 new cases, bringing the tally to 1,68,616. Meanwhile, 108 more fatalities pushed the death toll to 2,417. Overall, India also reported a record single-day spike of 3.8 lakh infections, higher than any country across the world.