Swami Avdheshanand Giri of Juna Akhara has announced the end of Kumbh Mela in Uttarakhand’s Haridwar, just hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s request to keep the religious event “symbolic” amid an unprecedented surge in the COVID-19 cases across the country.

“The people of India and their safety is our priority. Keeping in mind the raging coronavirus pandemic, we have traditionally performed the visarjan of all Gods. This is the end of Kumbh from June Akhada,” the seer tweeted in Hindi.

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Earlier this morning, PM Modi had tweeted an appeal to the top seer to end the mela, which is attracting a huge crowd, and observe the “symbolic” celebration.

The top seer of the akhara, which is considered the largest among the 13 akharas, had tweeted his agreement to the prime minister’s call.

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Hundreds of devotees, including top saints, have tested positive for COVID-19 in the temple town of Haridwar, where huge crowds have gathered to participate in the Kumbh Mela festival.

Thousands of devotees had taken a ‘holy dip’ in the Ganges river earlier this week on the most auspicious days of the two-month-long festival.

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The officials managing the crowd have said on record that they were struggling to impose safety norms due to huge crowds in Haridwar.

India reported 2,34,692 new cases on Friday – its highest-daily spike yet, of which 2,402 were reported from Uttarakhand.

The Uttarakhand government and the Centre are facing criticism for allowing the festival to go ahead amid a raging pandemic.