Mon. Jan 24th, 2022

Hundreds of thousands of Hindu worshipers gathered on the banks of India’s Ganges River for a sacred dive despite a 30-fold increase in coronavirus cases in the past month.

Hindus believe a bath in the icy water of the holy river during the Makar Sankranti festival, held on January 14 every year, washes away sins and frees them from the cycle of death and rebirth.

On Friday, a large number of devotees took a dive into the river in the eastern state of West Bengal, reporting the most cases in the country after the state of Maharashtra in the west.

Hindu Pilgrims at Ganges RiverHindu pilgrims gather to take a dip at the confluence of the Ganges River and the Bay of Bengal, on the occasion of the Makar Sankranti Festival in West Bengal [Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters]

Officials said they expected about three million people to attend the festival’s climax on Zagar Island, where the Ganges meet the Bay of Bengal.

“At dawn there was a sea of ​​people. Holy water from the river Ganges was sprayed from drones on pilgrims… to prevent flooding, ”said local official Bankim Hazra.

“But the saints and a large number of people were set on taking the plunge … Pilgrims, most of them without masks, were more than the security personnel.”

Also in the northern Uttar Pradesh state, Hindu followers, led by monks and asbestos-smeared ascetics, at Sangam, the confluence of three rivers – the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati – in the city of Prayagraj, 200 km (124 miles) pulled together. ) northeast of the state capital Lucknow, to take part in the Magh Mela Festival, one of the holiest pilgrimages in Hinduism.

Indians gather for holy dip, defying COVID-19 riseThe event raised concerns that pilgrims could become infected and take the virus back to their cities and towns in other parts of the country. while Hindu worshipers bathe in the Sangam [Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP Photo]

Millions of Hindus are expected to gather for the next 47 days. Many of them will remain on the banks of the Ganges for a month, leading the life of an ascetic, with the conviction that they will receive salvation.

“I can not breathe with a mask,” said Ram Phal Tripathi, who came with his family from a village in Uttar Pradesh after coming out of the river.

“I come every year for a holy dive. How could I have missed it this year? ”

The event raised concerns that pilgrims could become infected and take the virus back to their cities and towns in other parts of the country.

77 policemen and 12 cleaning staff deployed for the event have already tested positive for the virus, the Associated Press news agency reported Friday.

“This is going to be a super distributor. “The government should not allow a congregation of people in such a large number, because religious congregations in the past two years have been found responsible for spreading the deadly virus across the country,” said Utkarsh Mishra, a lawyer who ‘ filed a petition in Allahabad High. Court in Uttar Pradesh, requesting that the festival be canceled.

Health experts had earlier called for the festival to be canceled in Uttar Pradesh as well, but the government went ahead and said safety rules would be followed.

Critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party say the festival was allowed despite increasing infections because the government is not prepared to anger Hindus, the party’s biggest supporters, ahead of the crucial seven-stage. state elections in Uttar Pradesh, starting on February 10th.

Indians gather for holy dip, defying COVID-19 riseA man performs to receive alms from pilgrims at the confluence of the Ganges River and the Bay of Bengal on the occasion of the Makar Sankranti Festival in West Bengal [Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters]

Also in West Bengal, doctors have unsuccessfully appealed to the state high court to reverse a decision to allow the Hindu festival this year, because they were worried it would be a virus “superpreader” event. word.

Last year, a similar gathering in northern India’s holy city of Haridwar in the state of Uttarakhand contributed to a record increase in coronavirus cases. Fearing an increase in infections, Uttarakhand authorities have already banned the event.

Deaths due to India’s current wave of infections remain a fraction of what they were during the boom in April and May last year, with 315 deaths recorded on Thursday, compared to as many as 4,000 per day at the peak.

However, infections are increasing rapidly, with nearly 265,000 new cases reported on Friday. Some models predict that India could experience as many as 800,000 cases a day within a few weeks, twice the rate seen nine months ago.

The boom is mostly increased by the highly transferable Omicron variant, but hospitalizations are low, with most people recovering at home.

Authorities in various parts of India have sought to restrict rallies, eager to avoid another painful collapse for millions of workers who depend on a few dollars’ daily wages.

In the capital New Delhi, all pubs, restaurants and private offices are closed and the capital will enter its second weekend check-out rule on Friday night.

In the financial capital Mumbai, gatherings of more than four people are banned.

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