Undeterred by the pandemic, Hindu pilgrims gather in India.

As India prepares to begin an ambitious coronavirus vaccination program this weekend, more than 700,000 Hindu pilgrims gathered to take a dip in the Ganges River on Thursday, the start of the Kumbh Mela, one of the largest religious gatherings in the world.

The faithful who traveled to Haridwar, the holy town at the foothills of the Himalayas that is the site of this year’s pilgrimage, said a dip in the freezing waters will cleanse them of their sins and provide blessings that extend through several generations.

The authorities said that about 1,000 people had been fined for not wearing masks or maintaining social distance, but Sanjay Gunjyal, a police official monitoring the crowd, acknowledged the difficulty of trying to enforce the rules. “In a limited space, crowd management and maintaining social distancing is extremely difficult,” he said.

India has recorded at least 10.5 million coronavirus cases — the world’s second-highest total after that of the United States — although the South Asian nation’s outbreak is widely believed to be worse than the official figures suggest.

At least 2,500 security personnel were stationed along the river, where Covid-19 testing centers were set up and attendees’ fevers were being checked.

“Their belief system was paramount and not the fear to catch Covid,” said Manoj Singh Negi, a spokesman for the police department monitoring the event. “That they got to touch the holy waters was the overriding sentiment.”

Source: Read Full Article