Thousands of Hindu pilgrims have gathered in the northern Indian city of Prayagraj (formerly Allahabad) for a festival amid a massive surge in Covid-19 infections
Devotees believe that bathing in the river Ganges during the Makar Sankranti festival would cleanse their sins.
A similar gathering had contributed to India’s deadly second wave last year but the authorities in Uttar Pradesh state, where Prayagraj is located, have refused to ban this year’s event.
TV footage on Friday showed crowds at the river bank as pilgrims offered prayers with little regard to social distancing.
Hindi news channel ABP reported that more than 70% of the people were without masks.
A large tent city has sprung up on the river bank in the past few days to house the pilgrims and authorities say more than 5,000 policemen are being deployed to manage the crowds.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has appealed to people to follow all necessary Covid protocols during the event, known as Magh Mela but infections were reported from the mela ground even before the start of the event.
Senior police official Rajeev Narayan Mishra told the BBC on Thursday that at least 38 police personnel on duty had tested positive, sparking fears that the festival could turn into an infection hotspot in the coming days.