A Hindu seer has died from coronavirus and 80 other holy men have tested positive after attending a vast Indian religious festival where millions of pilgrims have been ignoring Covid-19 advice despite a national surge in infections.
The announcement from authorities in Haridwar, Uttarakhand state, came as India recorded more than 217,000 fresh cases in the past 24 hours, taking the total number of new infections to more than two million since April 1.
The festival of Kumbh Mela has long rung alarm bells among health experts who say it could turn into a “super-spreader” as pilgrims return home to their towns and villages all across India.
A gathering on the banks of the holy River Ganges in Haridwar happens every 12 years, and has attracted as many as 25 million people to the site since January, including some 4.6 million on two auspicious days this week alone.
The enormous crowds of pilgrims — including cannabis-smoking holy men with dreadlocks — taking a dip in the river have mostly ignored official advice to maintain distancing.
Earlier this week, Mahamandaleshwar Kapil Dev Das, 65, head of one of the Hindu akhadas or ascetic councils, was admitted to hospital and died from coronavirus on Thursday, officials said.
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