Thousands gather at Hindu festival in India as virus surges

Jan 14, 2022, 12:50 AM | Updated: 1:49 am

LUCKNOW, India (AP) — Tens of thousands of devout Hindus, led by heads of monasteries and ash-smeared ascetics, took a holy dip into the frigid waters of the Ganges River in northern India on Friday despite rising COVID-19 infections in the country.

Hindu pilgrims congregated at the Sangam, the confluence of three rivers — the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati — in Prayagraj city, 200 km (124 miles) northeast of Lucknow, the state capital of Uttar Pradesh, to participate in the Magh Mela festival, one of the most sacred pilgrimages in Hinduism. They bathed in the Ganges waters, a ritual Hindus believe will wash away their sins and free them from the cycle of death and rebirth.

A similar gathering at a Hindu festival last year in the Himalayan town of Haridwar, in neighboring Uttarakhand state, helped spread the delta variant that ravaged the country and made India one of the world’s worst-hit countries. Epidemiologists described the festival as a “superspreader event.”

Coronavirus infections, fueled by the omicron variant, are rising fast throughout India. The country reported over 264,000 new infections on Friday but hospitalizations remain relatively low.

Millions of Hindus are expected to throng the festival for the next 47 days. Many of them will stay on the banks of the Ganges for a month leading the life of an ascetic, with the belief they will receive salvation. It has raised concerns that pilgrims could get infected and take the virus back to their cities and villages in other parts of the country.

Already, 77 policemen and 12 cleaning staff deployed for the event have tested positive for the virus.

“This is going to be a superspreader. The government should not allow a congregation of people in such a large number because religious congregations in the past two years were found responsible for spreading the deadly virus all across the country,” said Utkarsh Mishra, a lawyer who has filed a petition in the Allahabad High Court asking that the festival be canceled.

Mishra said only locals and heads of important Hindu monasteries should be allowed to take part in the ritual.

Fearing a rise in infections, authorities in neighboring Uttarakhand state have already banned a similar gathering.

Health experts earlier appealed for the festival to be canceled in Uttar Pradesh state too, but the government went ahead saying safety rules would be followed.

Shesh Mani Pandey, a senior official in charge of the event, said only those who have taken two doses of the COVID-19 vaccines and have vaccination certificates would be allowed to join the ritualistic bathing. He said pilgrims will be allowed to enter the festival site after going through thermal scanning at the entry gates.

Critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party say the festival has been allowed despite rising infections because the government isn’t willing to anger Hindus — they are the party’s biggest supporters — ahead of crucial state elections in Uttar Pradesh.

The BJP-ruled state is holding polls on Feb. 10.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Sergei, 11, waits his turn to receive donated food during an aid humanitarian distribution i...
Associated Press

UN: 2.3 billion people severely or moderately hungry in 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — World hunger rose in 2021, with around 2.3 billion people facing moderate or severe difficulty obtaining enough to eat — and that was before the Ukraine war, which has sparked increases in the cost of grain, fertilizer and energy, according to a U.N. report released Wednesday. “The State of Food Security […]
7 hours ago
The Kaam Jiroon camp for the internally-displaced is seen from the air in Baidoa, Somalia, Wednesda...
Associated Press

Facing severe drought, Somalia calls for Turkish support

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Somalia’s president on Wednesday called for assistance from Turkey to combat the effects of severe drought that is threatening the Horn of Africa. Hassan Sheikh Mohamud made the comments during his first visit to Turkey since returning to office following an election in May. The two countries have forged close ties […]
7 hours ago
Issam Charafeddine, Lebanon's caretaker Minister of the Displaced, speaks during an interview with ...
Associated Press

Lebanon hopes to repatriate Syrian refugees within months

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon hopes to start repatriating Syrian refugees within months over objections by the United Nations and rights groups, a minister said in an interview Wednesday. Lebanon has one of the world’s highest numbers of refugees per capita and currently hosts over 1 million Syrians who fled the decade-old conflict. Officials say the […]
7 hours ago
This photo provided by UMBC, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) Professor Weihong Lin,...
Associated Press

Biomedical grantmakers’ diversity push gains new momentum

One and a half billion dollars is a big mea culpa, but that is what one philanthropy is throwing on the table to address what it admits is a longstanding problem: the failure to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in health research. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute, one of the nation’s wealthiest philanthropies, in […]
7 hours ago
FILE - Elvira, a bracco Italiano, competes in the 24 inch class at the Masters Agility Competition ...
Associated Press

Ciao! American Kennel Club adds a breed, the bracco Italiano

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. dog lovers, say “benvenuto” to the bracco Italiano. The ancient Italian bird-hunting dog is the 200th member of the American Kennel Club’s roster of recognized breeds, the organization announced Wednesday. That means the handsome, powerful but amiable pointers can now go for best in show at many U.S. dog shows, […]
7 hours ago
German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser addresses the media during a press conference in Berlin, Germ...
Associated Press

Germany eases path to permanent residency for migrants

BERLIN (AP) — Tens of thousands of migrants, who have been living in Germany for years without long-lasting permission to remain in the country, will be eligible for permanent residency after the government approved a new migration bill Wednesday. The new regulation, endorsed by the Cabinet, applies to about 136,000 people who have lived in […]
7 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Vaccines are safe if you are pregnant or breastfeeding

Are you pregnant? Do you have a friend or loved one who’s expecting?
...
CANVAS ANNUITY

Best retirement savings rates hit 4.30%

Maximize your retirement savings with guaranteed fixed rates up to 4.30%. Did you know there is a financial product that can give you great interest rates as you build your retirement savings and provide you with a paycheck for life once you retire? It might sound too good to be true but it is not; this product is called an annuity.
Thousands gather at Hindu festival in India as virus surges