Police inquiry into ‘fake Covid tests’ at India’s Kumbh Mela Hindu festival in April

Over 100,000 fake Covid tests were reportedly conducted during the massive gathering

At least 7 million devotees are believed to have participated in the Kumbh religious gathering this year

India’s northern state of Uttarakhand has ordered a police inquiry into allegations of thousands of fake Covid tests used during the religious festival of Kumbh Mela in April.

A case has been registered against private labs which were hired by the state to screen festival attendees for Covid.

“Orders have been issued to file a case against labs from Delhi and Haryana, which conducted testing at five places in Haridwar during Kumbh Mela,” Subodh Uniyal, Uttarakhand government spokesperson, told ANI news agency.

Earlier, the district administration of the city of Haridwar, one of the festival sites, ordered a probe following Indian media reports that over 100,000 fake Covid-19 tests had been conducted during the month-long gathering.

The Kumbh Mela is the biggest Hindu festival. At least seven million devotees are believed to have participated in the religious gathering this year. It took place at a time when a deadly second wave was wreaking havoc in India.

The state and the federal government, both led by Bharatiya Janata Party, were heavily criticised for allowing the massive gathering to go ahead, as images showed crowds of thousands of maskless people gathering near the Ganges river. Back then, the government assured the public that all safety precautions had been taken to allow the gathering.

According to Indian media reports, some of the private labs contracted to carry out Covid tests used fake phone numbers and addresses in order to meet the required daily testing target of 50,000 tests.

The scam came to light after a complaint by Punjab resident received an SMS for results of a Covid test the never booked.

According to the Times of India, one firm responsible for testing also submitted a fake phone number and address for their business to the state departments. A building they claimed was their Delhi address did not exist, and another address from Noida, a satellite city of Delhi, turned out to be a tin shed.

The government has withheld payment to all the labs that were conducting tests during the Kumbh due to the ongoing investigation.

Even before the scam emerged, the Kumbh was being considered a super spreader after more than 2600 visitors tested positive during the religious gathering.

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