India crosses 3 million Covid-19 infections as string of festivals begins

By Sarwar Kashani

New Delhi/Srinagar, Aug 23 (efe-epa).- India’s Covid-19 infections crossed the three-million mark on Sunday with more than 69,000 fresh cases and over 900 fatalities recorded in the last 24 hours, health authorities said.

The surging number of cases has caused more pressure on the authorities to prevent public gatherings as the season of major religious festivities has begun in the country with the western state of Maharashtra, the worst-hit in India, already celebrating an 11-day long festival of the popular elephant-headed god, Ganesh.

According to the union health ministry, the number of infections in the country of 1.35 billion people has risen to nearly 3.05 million, including 708,000 active cases and over 56,700 deaths.

The ministry, however, emphasized that although the country has not yet reached the peak of infections, the recovery rate has soared past 74 percent and the case fatality rate has dropped to 1.8 percent.

The rate of infections per million Indian residents is 2,156 while in the worst-affected country, the United States, the average exceeds 16,680, according to the latest data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said the situation in the country of “so many villages and tribal areas” was under control because “there is no government or non-government agency that has not gotten involved” in combating the disease and saving lives.

He said experts from around the world at the start of the outbreak had predicted that India lacked health preparedness to fight the infection and that there would be at least 300 million cases and 5-6 million deaths by July-August.

“But everyone came together as coronawarriors” that failed these predictions, the minister said, speaking at the inauguration of a Covid-19 wellness center on Saturday.

The health authorities also claimed that they were expanding coronavirus testing capacities, with some 800,000 samples tested in the last 24 hours.

One million tests were conducted between Friday and Saturday, which is a record.

Overall, 35.3 million tests have been carried out so far in over 1,500 laboratories that the country has, according to the data from the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR).

Despite the increase in cases, there is very little possibility of a nation-wide lockdown, such as the one imposed between Mar. 25 and June 8 at the beginning of the outbreak.

However, the authorities have now begun localizing confinement measures in the areas with a higher number of cases.

Such measures have been adopted in bigger cities like New Delhi with lockdowns imposed in certain small areas and residents barred from entering or leaving the quarantined perimeters.

The government on Sunday also released new guidelines for resuming films and TV serials, with strict instructions on social-distancing and face masks “except for the people who are being recorded on camera”.

“Contact minimisation is at the core of the (new guidelines),” Minister of Information and Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar said in a statement.

The government is facing a bigger challenge to stop gatherings as India’s annual season of religious and social festivals has just started with Ganesh Chaturthi.

It will be followed up by the harvest festival of Onam in the southern state of Kerala, and celebrated by Keralites across the country.

Durga Puja, an annual 10-day Hindu festival, celebrated mostly in the eastern and northeastern parts of India will begin on Oct. 22. The festival commemorates the slaying of the demon king by goddess Durga, marking the triumph of good over evil.

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