Friday, January 14, 2022

Indians take holy dip in Ganges River despite Covid tidal wave -

Huge crowds gather at India's Ganges river to celebrate Hindu festival

 Hundreds of thousands of Hindus are taking their annual dip in India's sacred Ganges River Friday, and over the weekend, despite soaring Covid-19 cases and stern restrictions. A similar event was partly blamed for a savage virus surge last year.

Pilgrims were arriving by the hour for the annual festival called Gangasagar Mela in India’s West Bengal state, which is daily reporting around 20,000 Covid cases including the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Authorities in capital Kolkata said they expected the numbers to touch up to a million on the banks of the Ganges, which Hindus also believe grant “Moksha” or liberation from the eternal cycle of life and death.

On Thursday, India reported 247,417 new Covid-19 infections, up 27 percent from a day earlier and the biggest single-day jump since May last year, government data showed.

Local courts showed the green flag for the spiritual congregation but set stiff pre-conditions for visitors and set up a watchdog panel to supervise health protocols at the site on a Bengal island.

“It is like wondering how cold it’d be by the side of an inferno,” cardiac surgeon Kunal Sarkar was quoted as saying as devotees arrived at a camping site from elsewhere in India.

TV showed worshippers, vendors and holy men milling around the festival grounds, many without masks but some also visiting vaccination and testing centers for visitors towing entire families for the Friday ritual.

Police were out in strength and volunteers were trying to enforce the sweeping health protocols.

Epidemiologists warned the Bengal festival could turn into a “super spreader” event for omicron reported in 50 of the 53 European and central Asian countries.


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