Modi calls to keep the Hindu festival symbolic while COVID-19 infections increase

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday called on devotees to hold an important symbolic Hindu festival, amid concerns over the spread of COVID-19 infections, as the country reported more than 200,000 new cases for the third consecutive day.

Criticism has grown over how the Indian government deals with the health crisis as religious festivals and election rallies continue, despite reports of a shortage of hospital beds, oxygen cylinders and doses of vaccination. Read More

India has reported 234,692 COVID-19 infections in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of cases to almost 14.5 million, second only to the United States.

Deaths from the disease increased by 1,341 to 175,649.

After hundreds of thousands of devout ascetics and Hindus gathered for several days along the banks of the Ganges for a Kumbh Mela religious festival, Modi on Saturday called for moderation, saying on Twitter that the festival should now be kept “symbolic”.

Responding to Modi’s call, one of the religious leaders Swami Avdheshanand urged devotees not to meet in large numbers. Hindu devotees believe that bathing in the sacred Ganges absolves people from sins and, during the Kumbh Mela, brings salvation to the cycle of life and death.

Those returning to Mumbai in western Maharashtra from Kumbh Mela will be quarantined in hotels, said Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar. Maharashtra accounts for a quarter of India’s coronavirus cases and is the hardest hit region.

Experts warned of the spread of more contagious variants of the disease, especially during large gatherings for religious parties and political rallies.

On Saturday, Modi was scheduled to hold two rallies in the state of West Bengal, where state research is ongoing. In the past few weeks, these rallies have attracted thousands of people, few of whom follow the COVID-19 security protocols.

“Stop the spreading demonstrations,” the Times of India said in an editorial on Saturday, adding: “Business as usual is an unaffordable luxury until the virus is conclusively tamed.”

India’s daily COVID-19 vaccinations declined from their record earlier this month and many state governments have requested more doses.

Federal Health Minister Harsh Vardhan assured states that there would be no shortage and that 11.6 million doses would be made available in a week, adding that 125 million doses had already been administered.

Some state governments in India have raised concerns about the build-up and black marketing of the antiviral drug Remdesivir. Read More

Nawab Malik, minister of Maharashtra, accused the federal government of Modi on Twitter of restricting the supply of Remdesivir to the state. A minister in Modi’s cabinet, Mansukh Mandaviya, denied the charge, saying adequate supplies were being provided.

After imposing one of the strictest blockages in the world for almost three months last year, the government of India relaxed almost all restrictions in early 2021, although many regions have already introduced localized restrictions.

“This is Narendra Modi’s biggest crisis. It is greater than any threat to security, external or internal, or even the economic friction of 2020,” wrote prominent editor and political commentator Shekhar Gupta in a column on Saturday.

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