Following the revelation by the Uttarakhand health department that approximately 400,000 COVID-19 test results issued during the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar in April of this year were fake, independent investigations by media outlets have revealed that this data obfuscated the true picture of the outbreak during the gathering.
The Uttarakhand government has ordered the Haridwar district administration to file a complaint against commercial laboratories that are accused of conducting bogus Covid tests during the Kumbh Mela. The state government hired private laboratories, mostly in Delhi and Haryana, to conduct tests during the Kumbh Mela, one of the world's largest religious gatherings, which took place from April 1 to 30.
The state government's spokesperson Subodh Uniyal told news agency ANI, "Uttarakhand government has ordered the Haridwar district administration to register FIR in Covid testing scam during Mahakumbh. An order issued to file a case against labs from Delhi and Haryana, which conducted testing at 5 places in Haridwar during Kumbh Mela."
How did the scam come to light?
The COVID-19 test scam was exposed earlier this month after a man from Punjab obtained a COVID-19 negative report on his phone from the Haridwar health department despite never having visited Haridwar or the Kumbh Mela. He then went to the Indian Council of Medical Research to file a complaint.
Mittal, a LIC agent from Faridkot who obtained his "test results" by text message, is now being called a whistleblower in the case. He was taken aback by the report, despite the fact that it was negative because he had not been tested for the virus.
According to a local article, Mittal initially believed that someone had gained access to his personal information and was now exploiting it. As a result, he approached the local authorities initially but was refused down.
He went ahead and filed a complaint with the ICMR after the health department officers also showed little interest in his issue. The ICMR took notice of Mittal's issue, but after many days passed with little action, he submitted an RTI (Right to Information) request to learn more about the issue. Following that, the investigation accelerated, and a probe discovered that the lab that allegedly carried out Mittal's Covid was actually located at Haridwar.
Mittal wasn't the only one involved in the matter, according to further inquiry. A major swindle resulted in the production of approximately a lakh fraudulent reports.
Dr. Abhishek Tripathi, the state's chief controlling officer or CCO, of COVID-19, then conducted a preliminary investigation. The investigation discovered numerous flaws in the way tests were carried out at the Mahakumbh, which occurred just as the country was entering the second wave of the pandemic.
According to the CCO's investigation, a private laboratory performed over 100,000 quick antigen tests.
“Of that one lakh tests, at least 50,000 are fake. It collected the samples in the above-mentioned fraudulent way and issued fake test reports of which most were negative... It most likely did this to siphon off money from the government because for a single rapid antigen test, it was to receive Rs 354 from the state government in Mahakumbh,” a state health officer told Hindustan Times.
Following the release of this preliminary report, the Uttarakhand government launched an investigation into all nine private testing facilities with whom the Mela management had signed a contract to conduct tests on persons attending the month-long fair.
TOI report on Kumbh Mela COVID test scam
According to a report by The Times of India, while the Uttarakhand health department's early inquiry found that roughly 400,000 COVID-19 test results provided during the Kumbh Mela were fraudulent, TOI's own inquiry found that at least 100,000 reports were also faked by a private agency.
Furthermore, it claimed that roughly 200 of the agency's sample collectors were students and data entry operators from Rajasthan who had never visited Haridwar during that time.
According to the investigation, 50 people are linked to a single phone number, while a single antigen test kit with a single-use was found to have tested 700 samples.
The investigation showed many of the addresses and names were made up, and 530 test samples were gathered from a single home. Reports suggest that health officials stated that the labs were under investigation and that the investigation information had been given to the Haridwar district magistrate.
Low positivity rate at the Kumbh Mela
During the Kumbh, nine government organizations and 22 private labs completed 400,000 tests. The test results contributed to a festival positivity percentage of only 0.18 percent, compared to a 10 percent general positivity rate in Haridwar in April.
According to official statistics, about four lakh Covid tests were completed by 22 government-hired laboratories during the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, which drew millions of pilgrims despite restrictions. Former Nepalese monarch Gyanendra, former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, Akhara Parishad chairman Narendra Giri, and a number of other seers all tested positive for Covid shortly after.
Experts have questioned why the government allowed large gatherings and bathing despite health officials' warnings that these activities could spread the coronavirus and turn the Kumbh into a "superspreader event." In May, the World Health Organization stated that the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar was allowed to continue despite the event's extremely evident risks.