More than 1,700 attendees of the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, India, have tested positive for COVID-19, as the country struggles to contain a second wave of the pandemic.

Health authorities conducted more than 236,000 over a period of five days from April 10, and 1,701 results came out positive, reports said. Among those who tested positive are sadhus (holy men) - one of whom who died from the disease.

The month-long religious festival witnesses hundreds of thousands of devotees descend on the Ganges river in the northern Uttarakhand state, hoping to wash away their sins, while shunning social distancing rules and face masks.

The situation on the ground is critical to the level that hotels nearby the river has been converted into COVID-19 wards, and they are already crammed with patients, one report said.

Despite the risk of the festival turning into a super-spreader event, the Narenda Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) central government has refused to call it off, fearing backlash from religious leaders in the Hindu-majority country.

Critics of the Indian government are comparing the current response to that of the Islamophobia sentiments that rose when an initial surge of infections was tied to a three-day meeting of Islamic missionary group Tablighi Jamaat in New Delhi, last year.

The current spike in coronavirus cases has forced several Indian states, including the worst-hit Maharashtra, to impose a 15-day curb on movements, starting this weekend.

India to date has more than 14.2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, and over 174,000 deaths from the disease. The country is the second worst-hit after the US.

Source: India Today, Al-Jazeera, The Hindustan Times
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