India’s election commission extended its ban on political rallies and roadshows in five states on Saturday due to rising COVID-19 cases in the country.
The ban, which runs to Jan. 22, excludes indoor political party events of less than 300 people, or at 50% of a venue’s capacity, the watchdog said in a statement.
India reported 268,833 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, taking its total tally to 36.84 million, according to data from the federal health ministry. Deaths from COVID-19 rose by 402 to 485,752.
However hundreds of thousands of Hindu worshippers gathered on the banks of India’s Ganges river on Friday for a holy bathe despite a 30-fold rise in coronavirus cases in the past month.
Hindu pilgrims take a dip as they gather at the confluence of the river Ganges and the Bay of Bengal on the occasion of “Makar Sankranti” festival at Sagar Island, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the eastern state of West Bengal, India, January 14, 2022.
Hindi speaking north indian Hindus believe a bathe in the holy river on the Jan. 14 Makarsankranti festival washes away sins.
A large number of devotees were taking a dip in the sacred river where it flows through the eastern state of West Bengal, which is reporting the most number of cases in the country after Maharashtra state in the west.
In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, thousands of devotees, few wearing masks, thronged the river’s banks in the holy city of Prayagraj.
“I can’t breathe with a mask,” Ram Phal Tripathi, who came with his family from a village in Uttar Pradesh state, said after emerging from the river.
“Every year I come for a holy dip. How could I have missed it this year?”
India is again facing a surge in coronavirus cases, fuelled mostly by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, but hospitalisations are low, with most people recovering at home.
Doctors had appealed unsuccessfully to the West Bengal state high court to reverse a decision to allow the festival this year, worrying it will become a virus “super spreader” event.
Last year, a big religious gathering in northern India contributed to a record rise in coronavirus cases.