Thursday, August 5, 2021

‘Fake Covid tests’ at India’s Kumbh Mela festival being investigated

Reports say fake names, mobile numbers and addresses were used in more than 100,000 tests.

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Uttarakhand state in northern India has ordered a police inquiry into allegations of private labs filing fake Covid reports, which may have helped fuel India’s catastrophic second wave of Covid-19.

Private agencies and labs were hired by the state to screen visitors for Covid. They conducted 400,000 rapid antigen tests during the month-long Kumbh Mela festival in April.

At least 25% of these tests and their results were forged, according to First Post, an Indian news organisation.

Reportedly, the agency or agencies faked results to meet their daily testing quota.

Media reports say fake names, mobile numbers and addresses were used in more than 100,000 tests during the Kumbh festival.

Uttarakhand was criticised at the time for letting the festival, which attracted millions of mostly maskless pilgrims, go ahead during the pandemic.

Unmasked crowds thronged the Ganges, jostling for space even as many Indian cities grappled with severe shortages of oxygen and hospital beds

Reports suggested that those returning from the festival infected countless people in their home states.

At the time, state officials said that every visitor was being screened for Covid. Private labs, based in Haryana and Delhi, were hired to conduct a majority of the tests.

Subodh Uniyal, Uttarakhand government spokesperson, told ANI news agency, “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.”

The Kumbh Mela is the biggest Hindu festival. It is held every 12 years and draws pilgrims from all parts of India and the world.

Experts had warned in March that the festival should be cancelled because of an impending second wave in India. But the government decided to go ahead, allowing people to visit from across the country.

Reports of fake Covid tests have also emerged from the northern state of Bihar where some primary healthcare centres have been accused of fudging data.

India has a thriving market in fake test results, according to media sources.

Many Indian Covid-19 tests results for air passengers have been labelled as “inaccurate or unbelievable” as passengers who tested negative before travelling test positive in other countries upon arrival.

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