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India: Hindu pilgrims bathe in Ganges despite COVID surge

Hundreds of thousands of Hindu worshippers have continued to observe the Makar Sankranti festival, as India experiences a surge in new infections.

Each year on January 14, Hindu pilgrims gather on the banks of the Ganges to bathe in its chilly waters. It's believed the holy river's waters cleanse followers of sin.

Makar Sankranti events proceed

Authorities are concerned that the gatherings could turn into so-called "super-spreader" events. Despite these concerns, events have proceeded.

One local official told the AFP news agency that people had begun to gather since sunrise.

"At the crack of dawn, there was a sea of people," Bankim Hazra told AFP. "Holy water from the river Ganges was sprayed from drones on pilgrims... to prevent crowding."

Authorities in the northeastern city of Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh said that COVID-19 protocols had been implemented.

District official Pushpraj Singh told the German dpa news agency that those attending events were required to produce vaccine certificates and negative test results.

"All the pilgrims have to show their vaccine certificates with negative PCR test reports. Thermal scanning is being done. We are trying to enforce the safety measures and will take action against violators," Singh said.

Elsewhere, local news channels reports showed many people wearing protective masks although most were unable to socially distance.

COVID-19 cases soar

India in the past month has experienced a massive increase in COVID-19 cases, driven by the omicron variant.

According to the country's Health Ministry, over the last 24-hour period observed, there were more than 264,000 new infections.

There were 315 more deaths, bringing the country's coronavirus death toll to 485,350.

During a coronavirus surge in April and May last year, more than 4,000 people died per day.

kb/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)