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Thousands of citizens take a “holy dip” in the Ganges River as India reports record coronavirus numbers

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At a time when India 264,202 cases of coronavirus, in a third wave that has led to a rapid rise in infections and record numbers in New Delhi, hundreds of thousands of Hindu worshippers gathered on the banks of the Ganges River to take a holy dip.

Hindus believe that a dip in the holy river on the January 14 Makar Sankranti festival washes away sins. Last year, at a time when the pandemic was at its worst, it was a hit with citizens but a hotbed of contagion, and it is possible, according to studies, that the Delta variant of the coronavirus appeared after the celebration of this custom.

The Asian country surpassed the 250,000 daily cases barrier for the first time in more than seven months, the Indian Health Ministry reported, bringing the number of infections recorded since the start of the pandemic to some 36.4 million. The positivity rate stood at 14.78% today, up from 1.1% just two weeks ago, marking the rapid increase in cases. Doctors had unsuccessfully appealed to the West Bengal state high court to reverse the decision to allow the festival this year, fearing it would become a “super-diffuser” event for the virus.

A large number of devotees bathed in the holy river as it flows through the eastern state of West Bengal, which records the highest number of cases in the country after the western state of Maharashtra. In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, thousands of devotees, some wearing masks, thronged the banks of the river in the holy city of Prayagraj.

The Makar Sankranti festival refers to a very important festival for Indian farmers. It marks the first day of the Sun’s transit to Makara, signaling the end of the month with the winter solstice and the beginning of the longer days. It is celebrated not only in India, but also in various regions of Southeast Asia. It has traditionally been considered one of the days dedicated to harvesting, and usually takes place in mid-January, although this festival is celebrated depending on the climate, crops, cultural background or the situation in the country.

The Asian country has detected 5,753 cases of the omicron variant since early December, an official number that experts say does not represent reality. Deaths from COVID-19 rose by 315 to a total of 485,350, the ministry said, as the country again faces a surge in coronavirus cases, fueled mostly by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, but hospitalizations are rare, with most people recovering at home.

In some cities such as New Delhi, infection figures have already surpassed records reached during the second wave. The Indian capital recorded 28,867 cases of covid-19 yesterday, up from a peak of about 25,000 last May. However, health authorities have pointed out that the rise in cases driven by omicron requires fewer hospitalizations than the delta variant, predominant during the second wave in the country. Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain said yesterday that hospital occupancy in the capital is still at 15%.

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