Over 3.5 lakh pilgrims took the holy dip at the confluence of the Ganga and the Bay of Bengal on the occasion of Makar Sankranti on Friday, even as officials carried out RT-PCR tests as part of the measures to check the spread of COVID-19.
Those who have taken the double dose of COVID vaccines and found negative for the disease have been allowed to enter Sagar Island for the Gangasagar fair, a senior official of West Bengal's South 24 Parganas district said. The holy bath began at midnight as pilgrims from different parts of the country gathered at the confluence braving cold and steady drizzle. They also offered prayers at the Kapil Muni temple here.
According to locals, physical distancing went for a toss during the dip even though disaster management and civil defence personnel, policemen and volunteers were active to maintain COVID protocols. The district administration claimed it regulated the proceedings to a great extent and most of the pilgrims followed the instructions, an official said.
"We didn't allow anyone without a RT-PCR test and double vaccination certification this time. The screening was done at all embarkation points, including Kolkata's Babughat and South 24 Parganas' Namkhana and Lot 8. As of now, an estimated 3.5 lakh pilgrims took the holy dip," he said. According to Hindu Calendar, the holy dip on Makar Sankranti is scheduled from 6.02 am on Friday and will continue till 6 am on Saturday.
A two-member panel formed by the Calcutta High Court to monitor adherence to COVID-19 norms at the fair had inspected the preparations since Wednesday. The committee, comprising Retd Justice Samapti Chattopadhyay and a member of West Bengal State Legal Services Authority, asked the administration to prevent overcrowding, the official said.
The authorities had on Thursday said every pilgrim is being subjected to RT-PCR test and 0.63 per cent of the samples collected were found positive. State power minister Aroop Biswas and women and child development minister Shashi Panja were camping at the spot, coordinating with the district magistrate and other top government officers to ensure the fair passes off smoothly. Every year, pilgrims from various parts of the country and abroad gather at Sagar Island, about 100 km from here, to take a holy dip on Makar Sankranti. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday urged the devotees to abide by COVID-19 protocols.
-With PTI Inputs