The main religious holiday season is in full swing in India and huge, noisy crowds flock to markets and fairs for the first time in two years, just six months after a devastating wave of Covid-19.
The coronavirus still kills more than 200 a day in this country of 1.3 billion people, but this number is well below the 4,000 daily deaths recorded on average in April and May.
Most activities have returned to normal and India has administered almost 1 billion doses of the vaccine, and around 75% of people have received at least one injection.
The holiday season includes Durga Puja, Dussehra, and Diwali, the major Hindu festivals celebrated with noise, color, and exuberance across the country.
People traditionally spend fortunes on clothing, candy, cars and other consumer goods, a frenzy vital to powering the world’s sixth largest economy, hit by the pandemic.
On Thursday in Kolkata, crowds flocked to the colorful “pandals,” temporary structures where idols of the Hindu goddess Durga are installed during the festivities.
Spectators were thrilled to see a 44-meter-high pandal designed as a replica of the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai, on which a dazzling light show was projected.
The regional capital’s traffic police, armed with loudspeakers, tried to remind people to keep their distance, without success, although many people wore masks.
“It’s the festival so people are going to come and have fun. Now there are no more restrictions, the government has allowed us (the party) so we have fun here,” Aradhana Gupta told AFP.
Riya Tai, on the other hand, sadly recalls that she was unable to hold the festival last year, when strict virus restrictions were put in place.
“I feel happy (this time), even though the crowd is excessive. I sweat a lot but still have fun,” he said, amid the drums and Bollywood music playing from the speakers.
The neighboring states of Bihar and Assam also saw sizable crowds, as did the western states of Maharashtra and Gujarat.
– Greater vigilance –
On Monday, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modin, which fears that this long holiday season will be marked by a resurgence of Covid-19, launched a campaign called “Mission 100 days.”
“We call on states to exercise greater vigilance over the next 100 days and to ensure appropriate Covid behaviors are observed,” said a government official quoted by the Hindustan Times newspaper.
“This is the only way we can save the country from an expected rebound in cases,” he added according to the same source.
Rajib Dasgupta, a community health expert, told AFP that the high proportion of people vaccinated for the first time could protect the country from another outbreak, unless a new highly communicable variant emerges.
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