Hundreds of thousands of Hindu worshipers have gathered on the banks of the Ganges in India for a holy bath despite a 30-fold increase in coronavirus cases over the past month.
Hindus believe that a swim in the holy river during the Makarsankranti festival on January 14 washes away sins.
Large numbers of worshipers were bathing in the holy river where it crosses the eastern state of West Bengal, which is reporting the highest number of cases in the country after Maharashtra state in the west.
In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, thousands of worshipers, few of whom wore masks, crowded the banks of the river in the holy city of Prayagraj.
“I can’t breathe with a mask on,” said Ram Phal Tripathi, who came with his family from a village in Uttar Pradesh state, after getting out of the river.
“Every year I come for a holy bath. How could I miss it this year?”
India is again facing a rise in coronavirus cases, fueled mainly by the highly transmissible variant of Omicron, but hospitalizations are low with most people recovering at home.
Doctors had unsuccessfully appealed to the West Bengal state high court to overturn a decision to allow the festival this year, fearing it could turn into a ‘super virus spreader’ event.
Last year, a large religious gathering in northern India contributed to a record rise in coronavirus cases.
On Friday, the health ministry reported 264,202 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, bringing India’s total to 36.58 million.
Deaths from COVID-19 rose by 315, with the total now at 485,350, the ministry said.
Australian Associated Press