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The Kumbh Mela festival has stoked coronavirus super-spreader fears in India as millions of pilgrims are expected to flock to the Ganges River every day during the month-long celebrations.
Kumbh Mela is the biggest festival of Hinduism, with the faithful coming from across the country to the holy waters for a ritual dip. This year, organizers of the festival in Haridwar in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand expect 150 million people to arrive at the riverbank pilgrimage site, undeterred by the coronavirus outbreak.
India reported 72,330 new COVID-19 infections in the past 24 hours, the highest since October, as it is observing a new coronavirus surge. In all, 12.22 million people have contracted the virus in India and 162,927 have died of it.
While the state government has made it obligatory for pilgrims arriving for Kumbh Mela from coronavirus-affected states to present negative COVID-19 results of tests, and for everyone to maintain a safe distance in public places and wear masks, experts say that observing safety protocols may be a challenge.
The location of the Kumbh Mela festival rotates between four pilgrimage sites: Haridwar on the Ganges in Uttarakhand, Ujjain on the Shipra River in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, Nashik on the Godavari River in the western Indian state of Maharashtram and Prayagraj on the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.