Guest Column

Call Of The COVID Pandemic: A Bio Bubble For Rath Yatra In Odisha’s Puri

The debate around this year’s Rath Yatra is to move with tradition, but without devotees for the second year. It calls for a shift in focus to another event and its management in the United Kingdom.

At Wembley, one of the host cities of EURO 2020, the crowd capacity will be raised to more than 60,000 for the semi-finals and final. It means the stadium will be at 75% capacity. It will also see the largest crowd assembled for a sporting event in the UK in more than 15 months.

Even though the UK government has postponed lifting all restrictions until July 19, the game at Wembley along with other sporting events is being allowed extra crowd capacity under its Events Research Programme. This is despite the fact that the
COVID-19 infections are increasing in the country with 23,115 new infections reported on average each day. That’s 38% of the peak — the highest daily average reported on January 5. Similarly, UK has administered 78,537,908 doses of vaccines so far. Assuming every person needs 2 doses, that’s enough to have vaccinated about 58.8% of the country’s population.

Wembley’s capacity has been reduced to 22,500 for group fixtures at Euro 2020, but that is set to be expanded to 45,000 – around 50% of full capacity – for two knockout games in the last 16 before the semi-finals and final. The spectator will need to follow a number of strict entry requirements, including having a negative COVID-19 test or proof of full vaccination.

This tournament has been a beacon of hope to reassure people that the UK is returning to a normal way of life and the Events Research Programme is a further step in that direction.

Even though up to 10,000 fans are permitted at outdoor sports venues, certain events are being treated as fan pilots as part of the government’s Events Research Programme.

At the Wimbledon’s, men’s and women’s finals will be played in front of full capacity crowds – the first UK outdoor sporting events to do so since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

In far east Japan, the organisers of the Tokyo Olympics have decided to allow spectators who live in Japan but with restrictions. The International Olympic Committee had agreed that the crowd would be allowed up to 50% of a venue’s capacity, up to 10,000 people.

This is despite an increasing trend of COVID-19 infections in the country which has been reporting 1,554 new infections daily. Japan has administered 46,248,972 doses of vaccines so far. Assuming every person needs 2 doses, that’s enough to have vaccinated about 18.3% of the country’s population. But if the pandemic situation worsens, the Games could be held without spectators.

Taking a cue from Euro 2020, Wimbledon, the Open, Tour De France and Tokyo 2020, the administration in Odisha needs to explore the possibility of allowing selected devotees for the Rath Yatra.

Odisha has administered ten million doses of COVID vaccines so far. Assuming every person needs 2 doses, that’s enough to have vaccinated about 25% of the state’s population. COVID-19 infections are also decreasing in Odisha, with 2,487 new infections reported in the last 24 hours. Similarly, the Test Positivity Rate (TPR) in the state stands at 3.93%.

Statistically, Odisha has an opportunity to a take call to shape the path for ending the pandemic and returning to normal life. The concept of Bio Bubble that was applied in making chariots too could be applied for Rath Yatra.

A bio-bubble is an invisible shield that is used to host events during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bio-bubbles were initiated for sporting events such as India’s tour of Australia, the US Open and so on.

The events like Rath Yatra offer an opportunity for the government and science to work together in returning life to normalcy. Instead of imposing hypothetical restrictions, Odisha could use the opportunity for bringing back normalcy as well as lessons for future Rath Yatra.

Perhaps, the learning would be a roadmap for upcoming major sports events in Odisha.

Piyush Rout

Urban Planner

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