Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday appealed to the faithful to keep a key Hindu festival symbolic, amid increasing worries about the spread of COVID-19 infections in the country.
India reported more than 200,000 new cases for a third straight day whereby Criticism has mounted over the Indian government's handling of the health crisis, as religious festivals and election rallies continue despite reports of shortages of hospital beds, oxygen cylinders, and vaccination doses.
Alarmingly, India reported 234,692 COVID-19 infections over the last 24 hours, taking the total number of cases to nearly 14.5 million, second only to the United States. Deaths from the disease rose by 1,341 to 175,649.
After hundreds of thousands of ascetics and devout Hindus gathered for several days along the banks of the Ganges for a religious festival Kumbh Mela, Modi on Saturday called for restraint, saying on Twitter the festival should now be kept "symbolic".
Responding to Modi's appeal, one of the religious leaders Swami Avdheshanand urged devotees to not gather in large numbers. Devout Hindus believe bathing in the holy Ganges absolves people of sins, and during the Kumbh Mela, brings salvation from the cycle of life and death.
Those returning to Mumbai in western Maharashtra state from the Kumbh Mela will have a quarantine in hotels, Mumbai's mayor Kishori Pednekar said. Maharashtra accounts for a quarter of India's coronavirus cases and is the worst-hit region. Experts have warned about the spread of more contagious variants of the disease, especially during large-scale gatherings for religious festivals and political rallies.