India | Thousands of Hindus gather on the banks of the Ganges despite COVID-19

(Sagar Island) Drones sprayed holy water from the Ganges on thousands of pilgrims gathered for the Hindu festival Gangasagar Mela on Friday in eastern India, authorities admitting being unable to prevent worshipers from gathering despite the threat of COVID-19.

Many pilgrims were without masks in the immense crowd, who came for ritual expiatory baths in the river representing the mother goddess Ganga herself.

Despite the current COVID-19 outbreak blamed on the Omicron variant, a court in Calcutta last week authorized the Gangasagar Mela to be held on Sagar Island at the mouth of the Ganges in the state of West Bengal ( is).

Up to three million Hindu pilgrims, including sadhus, ascetics with ash-covered bodies wearing dreadlocks, were expected on the island on Friday.

“At dawn there was a sea of ​​people,” local official, Bankim Hazra, said by telephone. “Sacred water from the Ganges was sprayed by drones on the pilgrims […] to contain the crowd ”.

“But the sadhous and a large number of people were still inclined to take the bath. […] The pilgrims, most of whom were not wearing masks, outnumbered the security personnel, ”added the official.

A police officer at the scene admitted that it was “impossible” to impose restrictions on devotees. “Most pilgrims are determined to defy the rules,” he said. “They believe that God will save them and that to bathe at the confluence [du Gange] will cleanse them of all their sins, including the virus if they are contaminated ”.

New Delhi, on the other hand, will enter a second weekend of curfew on Friday evening and Bombay has banned gatherings of more than four people.

India counted more than 260,000 additional infections and 315 deaths in 24 hours on Friday.

At the height of the pandemic in May, the country of 1.3 billion people recorded more than 400,000 new infections and some 4,000 deaths per day.

The appalling epidemic wave had swelled following the Kumbh Mela festival, one of the largest religious gatherings in the world, which had attracted around 25 million Hindu pilgrims.

These festivities, as well as large political gatherings organized in several States, had been denounced by the experts.

India now seems better prepared to resist Omicron than it was in the spring, when the Delta variant killed more than 200,000 people in just a few weeks.

But, according to recent forecasts, contaminations could climb to 800,000 cases per day within a few weeks.

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