Crowds Flock to Ganges as COVID Soars in India

Authorities require negative tests, but the crowds are too big to maintain social distancing
By Liz MacGahan,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 12, 2021 5:05 PM CDT
Crowds Flock to Ganges as COVID Soars in India
Devotees dip in the Ganges River during Kumbh Mela, or pitcher festival, one of the most sacred pilgrimages in Hinduism, in Haridwar, northern state of Uttarakhand, India, Monday, April 12, 2021.   (AP Photo/Karma Sonam)

Millions of people gathered and dipped in the Ganges River Monday as a second wave of COVID infections burned through India. Hindus observing Kumbh Mela, a religious festival and pilgrimage, crowded together to pray and bathe. Local police, fearing a stampede if social distancing rules were enforced, did little to control the crowd, per the Guardian. Monday’s gathering is expected to be the biggest of the festival, which has been limited to just one month this year instead of the usual three. Pilgrims are ostensibly required to have a negative COVID test to participate, reports the Business Standard of India. The northern city of Haridwar is using random testing of travelers and high-tech measures to try to contain the virus.

But while cameras can flag when a person isn’t wearing a mask, there are too many people for authorities to ticket. Infections are surging in the city, with 2,209 new cases reported since the festival began on April 1, per CNN. The pandemic is weighing down on India, with some hospitals unable to admit more patients and some regions running low on supplies to treat the disease. The virus’ spread slowed in February and at least 100 million people have been vaccinated, but a more contagious variant and haphazard social distancing appear to be at the root of a resurgence, per the Guardian. India’s increase in cases means it has surpassed Brazil and is now second only to the US in number of cases, per the BBC. (Read more India stories.)

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