In India there are growing fears that Diwali celebrations could fuel another virus spike

In India there are growing fears that Diwali celebrations could fuel another virus spike

When a devastating second wave of coronavirus infections hit India in the spring, hospitals were overcrowded with sick patients and crematoriums struggled to bury the dead as bodies piled up.

India is now celebrating one of its most important holidays – Diwali, the festival of lights – and many fear another wave of infection as millions gather for the celebrations.

“We failed our vigilance on this Diwali,” said Dr. Thekkekara Jacob John, former head of clinical virology at Christian Medical College in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. “Despite warnings from governments and health professionals, people think the virus is gone – it isn’t.”

The holiday began on Thursday and there is no data yet on what impact the celebrations could have on the country’s struggle to contain the spread of the virus. But epidemiologists said they already had concerns.

People flocked to markets with little social distancing, and hundreds of thousands traveled across the country this week to celebrate the holiday with their family members.

“At this Diwali, people almost forgot that the virus is still here and killing people,” said Dr. Prakash Singh, virologist in New Delhi, India’s capital.

Last year’s festival was celebrated without the usual fanfare of group prayers and fireworks. The authorities then used police officers in residential areas to restrict large gatherings. Hundreds of people in New Delhi have been fined for violating coronavirus restrictions.

Even before this year’s meetings, health authorities in India had warned of a possible third wave of infections, although the second wave has only flattened out at best. A relaxed attitude – combined with the holidays – could hamper the country’s fight against the virus, they said.

During the spring’s second wave, the country saw one of the worst coronavirus spikes in the world, peaking tragically in early May with more than 400,000 reported cases per day and 4,500 deaths daily.

But as vaccinations increased after a slow and chaotic initial rollout, India saw a decline in cases. More than three in four adults have now received at least one vaccination, according to government figures. And Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government recently lifted an eight-month ban on vaccine exports.

More than 680,000 people flew from airports across the country on Monday in the lead up to the festival, government officials said.

The surge in travel was an obvious vote of confidence in the country’s vaccination campaign: 54 percent of the population had received at least one vaccination and 25 percent were fully vaccinated, according to the Our World in Data project at Oxford University.

During a strict lockdown from late March to late May last year, most of the Covid-19 cases in India were concentrated in urban areas. But when restrictions on interstate travel were eased, many people moved from the cities to the rural areas and brought the virus with them. This is exactly what experts fear that it could happen this time.

A sizzling cloud settled over New Delhi on Friday, swallowing national monuments as air quality deteriorated to severe the day after Diwali. Despite a state ban, people celebrated the holiday by setting off fireworks.

Amit Tandon, a businessman in the north Indian city of Chandigarh, whose wife died during the second wave of infections in April, said he was pained by the scenes of people celebrating the holiday while ignoring health restrictions.

“When I saw people mingling without masks and bursting fireworks, my blood boiled,” he said. “Only those who have lost loved ones know how this disease can destroy families and lives.”

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Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.

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