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Rallies, religious gatherings aggravate India's worst COVID-19 surge

CoronavirusApr 08, 2021 04:56AM ET
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5/5 © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Hindu devotees take part in 'Huranga', at Dauji temple near Mathura 2/5

By Krishna N. Das and Sachin Ravikumar

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's COVID-19 cases have soared 13-fold in barely two months, a vicious second wave propelled by open disregard for safety protocols in much of the vast country.

Election rallies led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other major figures, as well as crowded festivals and religious gatherings, have characterised the record resurgence of the new coronavirus.

After quelling the first surge late last year, India's leaders let down their guard. Allowing or even encouraging dangerous behaviour, they underestimated the virus, reopening the economy too fast and too broadly, experts say.

With daily infections hitting a record 127,000 on Thursday, the most in the world and the third day this week over 100,000, the third-hardest hit country is soaring past its mid-September peak of around 98,000 cases a day.

Days after the health minister declared India's COVID-19 outbreak contained in late January, Mumbai reopened its massive suburban train network and authorities let tens of thousands of visitors into stadiums for international cricket matches.

Many of the South Asian nation's 1.35 billion people ignored masks and social distancing, while politicians including Modi and Interior Minister Amit Shah greeted hundreds of thousands of mostly mask-less supporters at election rallies.

When daily infections fell below 10,000 in early February, some experts predicted India would see only a modest second wave at most.

"We were really premature to celebrate," said University of Michigan epidemiologist Bhramar Mukherjee.

"This is a lesson," said Mukherjee, who leads a team of researchers modelling the trajectory of India's outbreak. "The really treacherous thing about this virus is how silently it casts its footsteps. By the time you see the cases and deaths, the damage is done."

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan told officials of 11 of the worst-hit states this week that "people largely gave up on COVID-appropriate behaviour, became very careless" as activity resumed.

"There have been elections, religious gatherings, reopening of offices, lots of people travelling, attending social functions, not following rules, little mask-wearing in functions like weddings, even on crowded buses and trains," he told a video conference.

Vardhan himself has faced criticism for tweeting dozens of images and videos of party rallies.

With 12.9 million cases, India remains close behind Brazil and well below the United States, which has recorded more than 30 million infections. India's COVID-19 deaths are above 166,000, although its fatality rate is one of the lowest in the world, partly because of its relatively young population.

New Zealand on Thursday suspended entry for all travellers from India, including its own citizens, for about two weeks.

(Graphic: India's daily COVID-19 case load: https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/INDIA/jznpnokqbvl/chart.png)

Authorities have imposed some curbs on movement, but federal ministers and industrialists have advised against another national lockdown. Last year's curbs thrashed the economy and threw millions of poor people out of jobs.

Instead, an increasing number of states are imposing local curbs, including night curfews in mega-cities such as Delhi and Mumbai.

Authorities have refused to call off a weeks-long Hindu festival, held once every 12 years on the banks of the Ganga river in the northern state of Uttarakhand.

A successfully run Mahakumbh, which is expected to draw millions of devotees, is seen as crucial for the campaign of Modi's Hindu nationalist party in the state, which votes next year.

Political parties have largely flouted COVID-19 rules during campaigns for multi-phase elections in four big states and one federal territory that started last month.

"Political leaders are themselves responsible" for the resurgence by allowing the packed rallies, said Subhash Salunke, a former World Health Organization official who advises the worst-hit state, Maharashtra. "The upward trend is going to be there for another couple of weeks."

Shashank Tripathi, a professor at the Centre for Infectious Disease Research at the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru, said that even if most people are eventually exposed to the virus, "there is no guarantee that it will not come back and infect you again."

"The lesson is the same for any country."

Rallies, religious gatherings aggravate India's worst COVID-19 surge
 

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Courtney Williams
Courtney Williams 2 hours ago
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𝘁𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐥𝐢𝐧𝐤 𝐞𝐱𝐩𝐢𝐫𝐞𝐬 𝐢𝐧 24 𝐡𝐨𝐮𝐫𝐬. 𝚒'𝐥𝐥 𝐬𝐚𝐲 𝐢𝐭 𝐛𝐞𝐟𝐨𝐫𝐞 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝚒'𝐥𝐥 𝐬𝐚𝐲 𝐢𝐭 𝐚𝐠𝐚𝐢𝐧. 𝚖𝐨𝐧𝐞𝐭𝐚𝐫𝐲 𝐬𝐲𝐬𝐭𝐞𝐦𝐬 𝐥𝐢𝐤𝐞 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐚𝐩𝐩𝐞𝐚𝐫 𝐨𝐧𝐜𝐞 𝐚 𝐝𝐞𝐜𝐚𝐝𝐞. 𝚊𝐧𝐝 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐡𝐚𝐯𝐞 𝐛𝐞𝐞𝐧 𝐥𝐮𝐜𝐤𝐲 𝐞𝐧𝐨𝐮𝐠𝐡 𝐭𝐨 𝐠𝐞𝐭 𝐲𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐨𝐰𝐧 𝐩𝐫𝐢𝐯𝐚𝐭𝐞 𝐝𝐨𝐰𝐧𝐥𝐨𝐚𝐝 𝐥𝐢𝐧𝐤 (𝐨𝐧𝐥𝐲 50 𝐩𝐞𝐨𝐩𝐥𝐞 𝐚𝐜𝐜𝐞𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐝 𝐰𝐨𝐫𝐥𝐝𝐰𝐢𝐝𝐞 𝐞𝐚𝐜𝐡 𝐦𝐨𝐧𝐭𝐡). 𝚒𝐟 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐰𝐚𝐧𝐭 𝐭𝐨 𝐛𝐞 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐧𝐞𝐱𝐭 𝐦𝐢𝐥𝐥𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐚𝐢𝐫𝐞 𝐬𝐮𝐜𝐜𝐞𝐬𝐬 𝐬𝐭𝐨𝐫𝐲 𝐩𝐫𝐨𝐝𝐮𝐜𝐞𝐝 𝐛𝐲 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐦𝐨𝐧𝐞𝐭𝐚𝐫𝐲 𝐬𝐲𝐬𝐭𝐞𝐦, 𝐝𝐨𝐰𝐧𝐥𝐨𝐚𝐝 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐬𝐨𝐟𝐭𝐰𝐚𝐫𝐞 𝐢𝐧 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐧𝐞𝐱𝐭 24 𝐡𝐨𝐮𝐫𝐬. 𝚏𝐨𝐫𝐠𝐞𝐭 𝐚𝐛𝐨𝐮𝐭 𝐢𝐭, 𝐝𝐨 𝐢𝐭 𝐧𝐨𝐰 𝐛𝐞𝐜𝐚𝐮𝐬𝐞 𝐭𝐫𝐮𝐬𝐭 𝐦𝐞, 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝚍𝚘 𝚗𝚘𝘁 𝐰𝐚𝐧𝐭 𝐭𝐨 𝐞𝐧𝐝 𝐮𝐩 𝐥𝐨𝐨𝐤𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐨𝐮𝐭 𝐟𝐫𝐨𝐦 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐨𝐮𝐭𝐬𝐢𝐝𝐞. 𝚍𝐞𝐭𝐚𝐢𝐥𝐬 𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞: 𝐦𝐨𝐩𝐞𝐭𝐣𝐚.𝐜𝐟
Kelly Morgan
Kelly Morgan 2 hours ago
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𝚑𝗼𝘄 𝗱𝗼𝗲𝘀 𝗹𝗶𝗳𝗲 𝗳𝗲𝗲𝗹 𝘄𝗵𝗲𝗻 𝗺𝗼𝗻𝗲𝘆 𝗶𝘀 𝗻𝗼𝘁 𝗮𝗻 𝗶𝘀𝘀𝘂𝗲? 𝘄𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝗶𝘀 𝗶𝘁 𝗹𝗶𝗸𝗲 𝘁𝗼 𝗵𝗮𝘃𝗲 𝗮𝗹𝗹 𝘆𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗯𝗶𝗹𝗹𝘀 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗱𝗲𝗯𝘁𝘀 𝗽𝗮𝗶𝗱 𝗶𝗻 𝗳𝘂𝗹𝗹? 𝘄𝗵𝗲𝗻 𝗰𝗮𝗻 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝗱𝗼 𝘄𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝘄𝗮𝗻𝘁, 𝘄𝗵𝗲𝗻 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝘄𝗮𝗻𝘁? 𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗿𝗲 𝗶𝘀 𝗻𝗼 𝗻𝗲𝗲𝗱 𝘁𝗼 𝘄𝗼𝗻𝗱𝗲𝗿 𝗮𝗻𝘆𝗺𝗼𝗿𝗲. 𝘁𝗵𝗶𝘀 𝗮𝗽𝗽 𝗶𝘀 𝘁𝘂𝗿𝗻𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗼𝗿𝗱𝗶𝗻𝗮𝗿𝘆 𝗽𝗲𝗼𝗽𝗹𝗲 𝗶𝗻𝘁𝗼 𝗺𝗶𝗹𝗹𝗶𝗼𝗻𝗮𝗶𝗿𝗲𝘀 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗵𝗲𝗹𝗽𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗺 𝗳𝗶𝗻𝗮𝗹𝗹𝘆 𝗹𝗶𝘃𝗲 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗹𝗶𝗳𝗲𝘀𝘁𝘆𝗹𝗲 𝗼𝗳 𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗶𝗿 𝗱𝗿𝗲𝗮𝗺𝘀. 𝚑𝗲𝗿𝗲 𝗶𝘀 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗹𝗶𝗻𝗸:𝘁𝗿𝗲𝗻𝗯𝗮𝘀.𝗴𝗮
 
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