A large rally at a Hindu festival in India amid a surge in viruses

New Delhi (AP) — Tens of thousands of Hindu followers gathered on the Ganges for a special prayer on Monday. As the coronavirus spread to India at record speed, many of them ignored the practice of social distance.

The Kumbh Mela, or Pitcher Festival, is one of the most sacred pilgrimages in Hinduism. Faithful people gather in the northern cities of Haridwar and soak in the waters of the Ganges. The Ganges believes to forgive their sins and save them from the cycle of life and death.

Kumbh Mela, which lasts until April, has occurred during the worst outbreak of new infections in India since the outbreak of the pandemic, with a seven-day moving average of over 130,000 new cases per day. Hospitals are overwhelmed by patients, and experts are worried that the worst hasn’t come yet.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Baratya Janata critics say the festival during a surge in infections as the government does not try to offend Hindus, the party’s biggest supporters. Says it was allowed.

The surge showed no signs of slowing, and since the outbreak of the pandemic, India’s confirmed infectious diseases surpassed Brazil’s total on Monday, making it the second most devastating country in the world.

The current surge has been hit hardest in western Maharashtra, home of the financial capital Mumbai. The state has accounted for almost half of the country’s new infectious diseases in the last two weeks.

Uttarakhand Prime Minister Thirasu Singh Rawat said last week that “faith in God will overcome the fear of the virus,” amid concerns that the Kumbh Mela festival could turn into a superspreading event. It was.

Health experts have called for the festival to be canceled, but the government has said it will comply with safety rules. There is concern that pilgrims may become infected and carry the virus back to cities and villages in other parts of the country.

Haridwar officials said the festival was shorter than the previous year, but it was very difficult to implement social distance measures. Coronavirus testing is mandatory for anyone entering the area.

“We continue to urge people to follow the proper actions of COVID-19, but it is virtually impossible due to the large crowd,” said senior police officer Sanjay Gunjyal.

Government critics compared the government’s reaction to the festival with the reaction of Indians last year. Muslims faced an increase in Islamophobia following accusations The first surge in infectious diseases was associated with a three-day meeting of Islamic missionary group Tablighi Jamaat in New Delhi.

The Modi Party, which has long supported the government’s Hindu nationalist policy, and some leaders of India’s free-spirited television channels labeled Muslims as “Jihadis” and “Superspreader” in March 2020. .. There are not even 200 per day. This accusation caused a wave of violence against Islam, a boycott of business, and hate speech.

India’s 200 million Muslims make up 14% of the population and are the largest minority group in the Hindu-dominated country.

India’s surge occurs because the country’s vaccination momentum appears to be struggling. Several Indian states have reported dose shortages, even though the federal government claims they have sufficient inventories.

After a late start, India now vaccinates an average of 3.6 million people a day, more than the United States. To date, it has managed more than 103 million shots, the highest in the world after the United States and China, but far less than many countries per capita, with a population of about 14 in India. Less than 6% of 100 million people.