India reports 268,833 new Covid infections, 402 deaths in a day

Hundreds of thousands gathered on the banks of the Ganges for a holy bathe on Friday defying Covid surge

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India reported 268,833 new cases of the coronavirus in the last 24 hours, taking its total tally to 36.84 million, the federal health ministry said on Saturday.

Deaths from COVID-19 rose by 402 to 485,752, the ministry said

Despite a 30-fold rise in cases in the past month, hundreds of thousands of Hindu worshippers gathered on the banks of India's Ganges river on Friday for a holy bathe.

Hindus believe a bathe in the holy river on the January 14 Makarsankranti festival washes away sins.

Hindu pilgrims gather to take a dip at the confluence of the river Ganges and the Bay of Bengal on January 14, 2022 Reuters

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.

India is again facing a surge in coronavirus cases, fuelled mostly by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, but hospitalizations 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.

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