Millions gather in holy Indian town despite Covid-19 spike

More than 1 million devout Hindus took a dip in the river at the holy Indian city of Haridwar on Wednesday even as several regions in the country struggled with a shortage of oxygen and beds to meet the needs of a rising number of Covid-19 patients.

The ritual bathing in the Ganga is a part of a month-long Kumbh festival which experts warn could turn out to be a super spreader in a country which has been reporting more than 100,000 new cases daily for the past two weeks.

Local television channels showed tens of thousands of pilgrims and ash-smeared, loin-cloth clad seers crowding the steps or ghats leading down to the river in the hill district temple town. Through the day more groups kept coming, while others left.

More than 1 million people had taken a dip by afternoon, an official at the Kumbh Mela police control room said, and more were expected. This was a day the town and its hinterlands reported 594 new cases of the coronavirus.

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Another 408 new infections were reported on Monday, which along with Wednesday was a “shahi snaan” or royal bathing day, which is seen as specially auspicious and draws bigger crowds.

Devout Hindus believe a dip in the holy river during the Kumbh festival and on the special bathing days will take them straight to heaven breaking the cycle of death and rebirth.

The Kumbh Mela, which has lesser crowds than usual due to the pandemic, is scheduled to continue until the end of the month. The next “shahi snaan” is on April 27.

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