HARIDWAR,UTTARAKHAND, INDIA, January 15, 2021 (The Guardian): Up to a million Hindu pilgrims have gathered on the banks of the River Ganges in northern India, marking the start of a major religious festival that is taking place despite the risks of Covid infection. Millions more are expected to descend on Haridwar in the coming weeks for Kumbh Mela, one of the world's biggest religious gatherings. Pilgrims bathe in the Ganges in the belief that the sacred waters will cleanse them of their sins. Unesco has recognized Kumbh Mela as intangible cultural heritage. According to Hindu mythology, gods and demons fought a war over a sacred pitcher containing the nectar of immortality. Drops fell at four different locations, which now alternate as hosts.
Officials have said measures to prevent a surge in Covid infections include pre-booking to control numbers, strict social distancing and color-coded bathing areas. "The pandemic is a bit of a worry, but we are taking all precautions," said one of the organizers, Siddharth Chakrapani. Some pilgrims in Haridwar dismissed the threat from the virus. "India is not like Europe ... when it comes to immunity we are better," said 50-year-old Sanjay Sharma. India has recorded more than 10m Covid cases - the second highest number in the world after the US - and has recorded more than 150,000 deaths. However, the pandemic has been waning in India now for some months. On Saturday, the government will launch a vaccination drive, aiming to inoculate 300 million people by early August.