The festive season could worsen the COVID crisis

With Durga Puja, Dussehra, Diwali and Chhath Puja around the corner, there is concern about Covid numbers spiking as people drop the use of all safety norms. Large gatherings are already happening. A shopping rush has already started in all cities, and images from the city's key market areas show huge crowds where many people have even ditched the mask. The country on Sunday crossed the 70-lakh mark in the overall number of covid cases and stands slightly behind the US, which is the worst sufferer, logging more than 76 lakh cases.
The authorities, for example, have found it impossible to enforce any limits on the number of people attending functions.  The sheer scale of demand makes social distancing an impossible goal. For many people, especially those living a cramped existence in urban areas, a daily trip to the bazaar offers a respite from the drudgery of existence.
Still, cash-short state governments are reluctant to stop people from venturing out during Durga Puja, next week, and Diwali in mid-November. The holidays are celebrated with family gatherings, bumper buying and the giving of gifts, from sweets and snacks to clothes and cars, generating vital income for many people.
Some doctors have accused politicians of undermining public health out of fear of upsetting religious sentiments, while the Union health minister has warned the situation will worsen if social distancing and other rules are not followed.  India has reported more than 7.3 million coronavirus infections and more than 1,12,000 deaths, though the rate of increase has slowed in recent weeks.
In his heart-rending message to the people, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said "No religious leaders of any religion say that festivals should be celebrated by putting lives in danger... no Gods say you need to go to big pandals to pray. If you know there is a fire outside and you still go out in the fire in the name of religion -- what's the point of such festivals," the minister said in a strong message. Therefore, people must follow the health guidelines and social-distancing while celebrating the festivals.


 

- Prabhakar Purandare

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