The Covid-19 virus has been detected in more than 2,000 people within the Indian city of Haridwar, Uttarakhand, where people have gathered for one of the world's biggest religious festivals, the Kumbh Mela, Indian media Scroll.in reported.
The festival which is held from April 1 to 30, sees pilgrims immersing themselves in the Ganges river to cleanse their sins, is expected to have 1 million daily visitors.
The cases were detected within the span of five days and more are expected to emerge, the chief medical officer of Haridwar, S.K. Jha, was quoted by Reuters as saying.
Two deaths have also been reported in the city.
The festival comes amidst a backdrop of rising Covid-19 cases in the country, with over 200,000 new cases recorded on April 15 — the largest rise ever recorded in one day, according to Deutsche Welle.
Event has become a "super-spreader" but will not be called off
A senior official in Uttarakhand added that the event has since become a super-spreader for the virus, as a result of the city lacking space for testing.
In addition, the Indian government has been unable to provide infrastructure and manpower to carry out Covid-19 tests.
The chief minister of Uttarakhand, Tirath Singh Rawat, has stressed that there is adherence to safety guidelines and that the "recovery rate is good," BBC further reported.
"Arrangements are also adequate to deal with any situation. Ma [mother] Ganga's blessings are there in the flow [of the river]. So there should be no corona[virus]."
Officials on the ground have stated the sheer impossibility of enforcing appropriate safe distancing measures.
We are continuously appealing to people to follow COVID appropriate behaviour. But due to the huge crowd, it is practically not possible to issue challans today. It is very difficult to ensure social distancing at ghats: Kumbh Mela IG Sanjay Gunjyal (1/2) pic.twitter.com/pkr7uulING— ANI (@ANI) April 12, 2021
Pilgrims: Impossible to adhere to social distancing guidelines at festival
AFP reported that most of the Hindu pilgrims who entered the Ganges River did not wear masks, and were "cheek by jowl" with each other.
A member of one of the Kumbh Mela's organising committees was further quoted as saying:
"Our faith is the biggest thing for us. It is because of that strong belief that so many people have come here to take a dip in Ganga. They believe that Ma (mother) Ganga will save them from this pandemic."
NDTV further reported that although there are posters at the festival warning pilgrims about violating Covid-19 guidelines, devotees have said that it is impossible to adhere to them.
A sampling team has also been moved away from the site in order to avoid a "stampede-like situation," S.K. Jha was further quoted as saying.
Religious festival likened to "corona atom bomb"
Several prominent Indian netizens have since slammed the religious festival as a public health hazard.
Hindu sentiments cannot be hurt hence #KumbhMela will not be stopped. Do you think Hindus are immune to Covid 19, do you think all those at the Kumbh have received the vaccine or will have access to hospital beds if infected. It is as much about your health as it is about others— Rana Ayyub (@RanaAyyub) April 13, 2021
For those who’ve lost loved ones this year, and fear losing others to covid, #KumbhMela pictures are not the stuff of memes. They’re deeply insensitive, violently hurtful.— Anindita Ghose (@aninditaghose) April 13, 2021
An Indian film director, Ram Gopal Varma, has also likened the religious festival to a "corona atom bomb".
What you are seeing is not KUMBH MELA but it’s a CORONA ATOM BOMB ..I wonder who will be made accountable for this VIRAL EXPLOSION pic.twitter.com/bQP9fVOw5c— Ram Gopal Varma (@RGVzoomin) April 13, 2021
He also pointed out what he thought was hypocrisy in the government's stance towards a religious gathering the previous year, the Tablighi Jamaat gathering in March 2020, which saw a few thousand Muslims gather at the Nizamuddin Markaz Mosque in New Delhi.
The Delhi Jammat super spreader of March 2020 is like a short film compared to today’s BAHUBALIian KUMBH MELA ..All us Hindus owe an apology to Muslims because they did back then when they dint know and we did this one year after we fully know 🙄🙄🙄 pic.twitter.com/2fMF3uUtiG— Ram Gopal Varma (@RGVzoomin) April 12, 2021
Aljazeera reported that the gathering became India's worst vector for Covid-19 at that time, with nearly a third of India's 4,400 cases linked to the gathering.
The event also resulted in a spike in Islamophobia on social media.
Members of the gathering were also detained for supposedly spreading the virus, while an MP of Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party said that it was not wrong to have them shot.
Top photo by XAVIER GALIANA/AFP via Getty Images