Published January 14,2022
Hundreds of thousands of Hindu pilgrims bathed in the holy river Ganges in India on Friday to mark an annual festival despite a surge in Covid-19 infections.
Devotees believe that taking a dip in the river Ganges during the Makar Sankranti festival would absolve them of sins. Similar gatherings had contributed to the devastating second wave of the pandemic in the country last year.
Huge numbers gathered at the Ganges river in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh and eastern state of West Bengal for the ritual dip, violating Covid-19 safety protocols.
Television news channels showed that many of them did not wear masks or maintained physical distancing, raising fears that the gatherings will turn into "super-spreader" events.
Authorities in Uttar Pradesh's Prayagraj city where the event was being held, however, maintained they had implemented Covid-related protocols.
"All the pilgrims have to show their vaccine certificates with negative RT-PCR [reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction] test reports. Thermal scanning is being done. We are trying to enforce the safety measures and will take action against violators," district official Pushpraj Singh said by phone.
Health experts have warned that allowing such mass events at a time when the country is in the grip of the third Covid-19 wave will boost the transmissibility of the virus.
Over the last week, India with a population of 1.3 billion, has seen a massive surge in Covid-19 infections fuelled by the Omicron variant.
More than 264,000 new infections were recorded in the country over the last 24 hours, the Health Ministry said. Deaths from Covid-19 rose by 315, with total fatalities at 485,350, it added.