Thousands gather at Indian Hindu festivals as the virus surges

Lucknow, India (AP) — Tens of thousands of devout Hindus, led by a monastery chief and an asceticist covered in ash, flooded the frigid waters of the Ganges in northern India on Friday. Country.

Hindu pilgrims gathered in Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati rivers in the city of Playagrazi, 200 km (124 miles) northeast of Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, join Magmela. Did. A festival that is one of the most sacred pilgrimages in Hinduism. They were bathed in the waters of the Ganges. Hindu rituals are believed to wash away their sins and free them from the cycle of death and rebirth.

A Similar gatherings Last year at a Hindu festival held in the neighboring Himalayan town of Haridwar in Uttarakhand. Devastated Made the country and India one of the hardest hit countries in the world. Epidemiologists have described the festival as a “super-spreader event.”

Coronavirus infections fueled by Omicron mutants are increasing rapidly throughout India. The country reported more than 264,000 new infections on Friday, but hospitalizations remain relatively low.

It is expected that millions of Hindus will attend the festival over the next 47 days. Many of them stay on the banks of the Ganges for a month to live an ascetic life, believing they will be saved. There is growing concern that pilgrims may become infected and carry the virus back to cities and villages in other parts of the country.

Already, 77 police officers and 12 cleaning staff have been stationed for this event and tested positive for the virus.

“This will be a super-spreader. The government should not allow a congregation of so many people, as the religious congregation over the past two years has been found to be responsible for spreading the deadly virus nationwide. “Utkarsh Mishra, a lawyer who filed a petition in Prayagraj, said. High court calling for the cancellation of the festival.

Mishra said that only locals and important Hindu monastery heads should be allowed to participate in the ritual.

Fearing an increase in infection, authorities in neighboring Uttarakhand have already banned similar rallies.

Health experts have previously called for the festival to be canceled in Uttar Pradesh, but said the government will comply with safety rules.

Shesh Mani Panday, a senior official at the event, said she had been vaccinated twice with the COVID-19 vaccine and only those with a vaccination certificate could participate in the ceremonial bath. He said pilgrims would be allowed to enter the festival venue after passing a thermal scan at the entrance gate.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party critics said the festival was allowed despite increasing infections as the government did not try to offend Hindus. I am. Important state elections At Uttar Pradesh.

BJP-controlled states are voting on February 10.