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Hindu devotees gather on the banks of Ganges River during the Kumbh Mela festival in Haridwar on April 11.
Hindu devotees gather on the banks of Ganges River during the Kumbh Mela festival in Haridwar on April 11. Money Sharma/AFP/Getty Images

Millions of people have been traveling across India in April for the Kumbh Mela, a major Hindu festival and the largest pilgrimage on Earth, held this year in the city of Haridwar.

But it’s raising Covid concerns, as the country plunges deeper into a worrying second wave.

“Social distancing is proving very difficult, if we try to enforce it then it can lead to a stampede,” Inspector General of Police Sanjay Gunjyal told local news early Monday. Police are “continually appealing” to people to wear masks and follow precautions, he added.

At least 650,000 people had already taken a dip in the Ganges River early this morning, Gunjyal added. And many more are expected throughout the day, as Monday is considered a particularly auspicious day to dip into the sacred waters.

AI surveillance: In their efforts to enforce measures, officers are using artificial intelligence cameras for surveillance in several river banks in the city.

“The camera has sensors which alert us when the number of cars in parking areas or foot traffic crosses a certain threshold and we can communicate with people on ground to start diverting crowds,” said Mukesh Thakur, a senior police official.
“The cameras also detect if people are not wearing masks and the officers on ground immediately issue tickets to those people.”

However, it wasn’t possible to issue tickets to everyone on Monday because of the huge crowds, he added.

Some 15,000 security personnel are also involved in crowd control and administration.

On Sunday, at least 1.1 million people were at the various banks of the river. More than 2,200 cases have been reported in Haridwar since the festival began on April 1, according to data released by the Uttarakhand state health department. 

Read more about the festival:

Mass religious festival goes ahead in India despite Covid fears