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Hindu pilgrims turn festival at Ganges river into super-spreader event

HARIDWAR, INDIA Hundreds of thousands of Hindu pilgrims descended on the banks of the Ganges river yesterday trusting in faith rather than masks to shield them against the coronavirus pandemic during the giant Kumbh Mela festival.

Up to one million people were expected in the city of Haridwar for the first day of the pilgrimage, even though India has the world's second highest number of cases, more than 10 million, and has recorded more than 150,000 deaths.

Most of the people, aged between three and over 80, did not have masks and social distancing was non-existent.

Senior police official Senthil Avoodai Raj, who predicted between 500,000 and one million would enter the city on the day, said that thousands upon thousands of security forces in the crowds were trying to tell people to wear masks.

Organiser Siddharth Chakrapani said: "The pandemic is a bit of a worry, but we are taking all precautions."

Referring to the Hindu goddess of forgiveness and purification, he added: "I'm sure Maa Ganga will take care of their safety." - AFP

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