India is currently hosting a vast CovidD-19 "superspreader" event despite having the world’s highest overall case numbers, an official has warned.
The country’s new coronavirus infections hit a record level on Wednesday with Mumbai set to be locked down at midnight, but hundreds of thousands of Hindu pilgrims still went to the "Kumbh Mela" festival.
They gathered to bathe in the Ganges River in the northern city of Haridwar, despite an official warning it had caused coronavirus cases to spike.
Haridwar chief medical officer S.K. Jha said infections in the city have already jumped to more than 500 a day since the celebration officially began this month, from just 25-30 last month.
A senior official in Uttarakhand state, where Haridwar is located, said: "It is already a super-spreader because there is no space to test hundreds of thousands in a crammed city and the government neither has the facilities nor the manpower."
Police said 650,000 devotees had bathed in the river since Wednesday morning, and people were being fined for failing to observe social distancing in some areas.
Devout Hindus believe bathing in the holy Ganges absolves people of sins, and during the Kumbh Mela, it brings salvation from the cycle of life and death.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has refused to call off the festival that is scheduled to last the whole month, possibly fearing a backlash from religious leaders in the Hindu-majority country.
Jha added they had to pull back a COVID-19 testing crew to avoid a “stampede-like situation” among visitors and said he expected this to cause cases to rise when they all moved away.
Indian filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma, posted a picture of devotees at the festival, tweeting: "What you are seeing is not Kumbh Mela but it's a corona atom bomb,"
"I wonder who will be made accountable for this viral explosion."
Hotels have become isolation shelters for those found infected by a team of 300 medical staff running 40,000 random tests daily.
"We started taking in patients on April 5, and three days ago all our rooms got filled," a hotel executive said.
A doctor from the region said at least four other hotels have been turned into COVID wards.
Chhattisgarh state - one of several hinterland regions struggling with a surge in cases - set up a temporary 370-bed hospital in an indoor stadium.
India has reported 184,372 cases in the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed, taking total infections to 13.9 million.
Deaths rose by 1,027, for a toll of 172,085.
After reporting less than 10,000 cases per day earlier this year, India has been the world's worst-hit country since April 2.
The government blames a widespread failure to heed curbs on movement and social interaction among the population of 1.39 billion people.