KOLKATA: An Indian court on Friday rejected a bid to cancel a major Hindu festival despite fears the vast gathering could spread coronavirus infections as the country sees an Omicron-driven surge in cases.

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to attend the annual Gangasagar Mela festival, which begins on Saturday on an island where the river Ganges enters the Bay of Bengal.

It marks the harvest season and will reach a climax next weekend ahead of the new moon on January 17.

Kolkata-based doctor Avinandan Mondal sought a court order to ban the festival over coronavirus concerns, with infection rates surging in a country that saw a deadly wave last year.

New cases passed 100,000 on Friday and authorities in several megacities have brought in restrictions as they seek to slow the spread of the virus.

But the Calcutta High Court rejected the request, instead asking the regional government — which estimated attendance at no more than 500,000 and supported the gathering — to issue advertisements warning people about the risks of attending.

“People from all states in the country will attend the religious festival and take a holy dip,” environmentalist Subhash Dutta told AFP.

“They may carry variant viruses and this religious festival may end up being the biggest superspreader in the coming days,” he added.

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