Prayagraj mela: Covid surge brings thousands to Hindu festival

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Magh Mela Festival attracts thousands of devotees

Tens to thousands of Hindu pilgrims gathered in Prayagraj in northern India (formerly Allahabad), for a festival that took place amid an astronomical increase in Covid-19 infection.

Believers say that a dip in the Ganges river during Makar Sankranti will cleanse them of all their sins.

An identical gathering contributed to India’s devastating second wave of violence last year.

However, the Uttar Pradesh authorities, which is where Prayagraj lives, refused to prohibit this year’s celebration.

Television footage from Friday captured crowds on the banks of the river as they offered prayers without regard for social distancing. ABP, a Hindi news channel reported that 70% of people in the area were not wearing masks.

To house pilgrims, a large city-sized tent has been built on the bank of the River in recent days. Authorities say that more than 5,000 officers are deployed to control the chaos.

Chief Minister Yogi Abityanath appealed to the public to adhere to all Covid protocols at Magh Mela.

Infections were still reported at the mela floor even before the event started.

Rajeev Narayan Mishra, a senior police officer, told BBC that 38 of the police officers on duty tested positive. This raised fears about the possibility that this festival will become an infected hotspot.

Millions of pilgrims came to Haridwar, Himalayan, last April, as many other cities struggled for oxygen and beds.

Numerous pilgrims, who were from across the country, tested positive upon returning to home. Epidemiologists described the festival as “super-spreader” and said that it was a very special event.

Uttarakhand authorities have prohibited devotees from taking dips in the river for the Festival of Lights this year.

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Experts worry about what the Magh Mela celebration could mean for public health because Uttar Pradesh insists on it.

India is currently undergoing a third wave pandemic. This may be due to the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Over 247,417 infections were reported in India on Thursday. It was the highest level since May. The rise of cases in large cities, such as Delhi (capital) and Mumbai’s financial center, is the reason.

Uttar Pradesh also saw a dramatic rise in infections over the past week. Covid cases at Prayagraj increased by 10 times.

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The state authorities have taken several steps to reduce the spread of infections, such as a night curfew. In light of this situation, the Indian Election Commission banned any physical demonstrations.

However, Indian websites displayed images of hordes arriving at Prayagraj on Thursday to witness the festival. While many arrived in heavy-packed tractor tractors, others reached Prayagraj on colourful trolleys and rickety trucks.

The authorities maintain they have followed all Covid protocols at the site.

They require all pilgrims to present their vaccination certificates and a RT-PCR report two days prior to their arrival.

We have placed hoardings in many locations to highlight the need for masks. The screening team is in place. Jai Kishan (health officer responsible for the arrangements) told NDTV that there are also provisions for testing.

On Thursday, Mr Adityanath asked that Covid patients as well as those not yet fully vaccinated be excused from the event.

Experts are concerned about how many pilgrims will be tested in the coming days and how orders would be implemented if they increase.

These are also possible options:


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