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Thousands of people participate in holy bath in Prayagraj despite COVID-19 surge

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

Despite a 30-fold increase in coronavirus cases in the previous month, thousands of Hindu worshippers congregated on the banks of India’s Ganges river on Friday for a holy bath.

The news: On the 14th of January, Hindus believe that bathing in the holy river takes away sins.

  • A significant number of devotees were taking a bath in the sacred river, which flows through the eastern state of West Bengal, which, after Maharashtra in the west, is reporting the highest number of cases in the country.
  • Thousands of pilgrims flocked to the river’s banks in the holy city of Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh’s northern state, some donning masks.
A government official uses a megaphone to urge the pilgrims to maintain social distance and to wear face masks, as pilgrims gather at the confluence of the river Ganges and the Bay of Bengal on the occasion of “Makar Sankranti” festival at Sagar Island, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the eastern state of West Bengal, India, January 14, 2022. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

What they’re saying: After emerging from the river, Ram Phal Tripathi, who had travelled with his family from a hamlet in Uttar Pradesh, remarked, “I can’t breathe with a mask.”

  • “Every year, I make the pilgrimage to take a sacred bath. I’m not sure how I missed it this year.”
Hindu pilgrims cover themselves with a plastic sheet during rainfall as pilgrims gather at the confluence of the river Ganges and the Bay of Bengal on the occasion of “Makar Sankranti” festival at Sagar Island, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the eastern state of West Bengal, India, January 14, 2022. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

In addition: The highly transmissible Omicron strain is causing a surge in coronavirus cases in India, but hospitalizations are rare, with most people healing at home.

Doctors have unsuccessfully petitioned the West Bengal state high court to overturn a decision to allow the festival this year, fearing that it would serve as a viral “super spreader.”

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