Hundreds of thousands of Indians gather for holy dip, defying COVID-19 surge

PRAYAGRAJ, India, Jan. 14 (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of Hindu worshipers gathered on the banks of the Ganges River in India for a holy bath on Friday, despite a 30-fold increase in coronavirus cases in the past month.

Hindus believe that a bath in the holy river on the Makarsankranti festival of January 14 washes away sins.

A large number of devotees took a dip in the holy river where it flows through the eastern state of West Bengal, which reports the highest number of cases in the country after the state of Maharashtra in the west.

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In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, thousands of devotees, few in masks, crowded the riverbanks in the holy city of Prayagraj.

“I can’t breathe in a mask,” said Ram Phal Tripathi, who came with his family from a village in the state of Uttar Pradesh after coming out of the river.

Hindu pilgrims gather to take a dip at the confluence of the Ganges River and the Bay of Bengal, on the occasion of the “Makar Sankranti” festival on Sagar Island, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID -19) in the eastern state of West Bengal, India, Jan. 14, 2022. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

“Every year I come for a holy dip. How could I have missed it this year?”

India is again facing a surge in coronavirus cases, fueled mainly by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, but hospital admissions are low and most people are recovering at home.

Doctors had unsuccessfully appealed to the high court of the state of West Bengal to overturn a decision to allow this year’s festival, fearing it will become a virus “super spreader” event.

Last year, a major religious gathering in northern India contributed to a record surge in coronavirus cases.

On Friday, the Ministry of Health reported 264,202 new cases of the coronavirus in the past 24 hours, bringing India’s total number to 36.58 million.

The number of deaths from COVID-19 rose by 315, with a total now at 485,350, the ministry said.

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Reporting by Ritesh Shukla in Prayagraj, additional reporting by Subrata Nagchoudhury in Kolkata; writing by Shilpa Jamkhandikar in Mumbai; Editing by Mayank Bhardwaj, Christian Schmollinger and Michael Perry

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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