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World India's festive season spawns fears of renewed virus surge

10:05  25 october  2020
10:05  25 october  2020 Source:   msn.com

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India must ensure that virus safety measures are not violated at this juncture. India ’ s battle against Coronavirus is going through a critical phase. While daily positive cases are declining, the country’s viral load is gradually inching to cross that of the United States in the coming weeks.

India is set to begin its season of religious festivities , raising alarm bells the events could drastically increase the spread of coronavirus in the country, which is on track to surpass the United States in terms of infections. Even so, as FRANCE 24 correspondent Sreya Banerjee explains, the pandemic

NEW DELHI (AP) — Just weeks after India fully opened up from a harsh lockdown and began to modestly turn a corner by cutting new coronavirus infections by near half, a Hindu festival season is raising fears that a fresh surge could spoil the hard-won gains.

A Hindu priest wearing a face shield applies vermilion paste on the forehead of a child during Durga Puja festival in Gauhati, India, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. Weeks after India fully opened up from a harsh lockdown and began to modestly turn a corner by cutting new infections by near half, a Hindu festival season is raising fears that the disease could spoil the hard-won gains. Health experts worry the festivals can set off a whole new cascade of infections, further testing and straining India’s battered health care system. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath) © Provided by Associated Press A Hindu priest wearing a face shield applies vermilion paste on the forehead of a child during Durga Puja festival in Gauhati, India, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. Weeks after India fully opened up from a harsh lockdown and began to modestly turn a corner by cutting new infections by near half, a Hindu festival season is raising fears that the disease could spoil the hard-won gains. Health experts worry the festivals can set off a whole new cascade of infections, further testing and straining India’s battered health care system. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)

“I’d be very worried about what we are going to see in India,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health and a leading infectious disease expert.

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Indian businesses are stocking up more ahead of this year's big festival season than at any time in the last five years, expecting people whose earnings were relatively unaffected by the pandemic to spend the money they saved during months of lockdowns. India ' s biggest shopping season is at the time of

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The festivals draw tens and thousands of people, packed together shoulder-to-shoulder in temples, shopping districts and family gatherings, leading to concerns among health experts who warn of a whole new cascade of infections, further testing and straining India’s battered health care system.

People wait to leave as it rains after shopping at a wholesale flower market ahead of the Hindu festival of Dussehra, in Bengaluru, India, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Weeks after India fully opened up from a harsh lockdown and began to modestly turn a corner by cutting new infections by near half, a Hindu festival season is raising fears that the disease could spoil the hard-won gains. Health experts worry the festivals can set off a whole new cascade of infections, further testing and straining India’s battered health care system. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi) © Provided by Associated Press People wait to leave as it rains after shopping at a wholesale flower market ahead of the Hindu festival of Dussehra, in Bengaluru, India, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Weeks after India fully opened up from a harsh lockdown and began to modestly turn a corner by cutting new infections by near half, a Hindu festival season is raising fears that the disease could spoil the hard-won gains. Health experts worry the festivals can set off a whole new cascade of infections, further testing and straining India’s battered health care system. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

The Hindu festival season is traditionally laced with an unmatched fanfare and extravaganza, with socializing being the hallmark of the celebration. But this year's festivities have started on a pale note.

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So far, the colorful and elaborate rituals for Durga Puja and Dussehra have been scaled down. The celebrations, bereft of all the grandiose, have been muted. The towering displays of religious sculptures are rare, and at many places, prayers have gone virtual, with organizers livestreaming the sessions for the devotees.

Effigies of mythical demon king Ravana stand for sale by the side of a road ahead of the Hindu festival of Dussehra, in New Delhi, India, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Weeks after India fully opened up from a harsh lockdown and began to modestly turn a corner by cutting new infections by near half, a Hindu festival season is raising fears that the disease could spoil the hard-won gains. Health experts worry the festivals can set off a whole new cascade of infections, further testing and straining India’s battered health care system. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup) © Provided by Associated Press Effigies of mythical demon king Ravana stand for sale by the side of a road ahead of the Hindu festival of Dussehra, in New Delhi, India, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Weeks after India fully opened up from a harsh lockdown and began to modestly turn a corner by cutting new infections by near half, a Hindu festival season is raising fears that the disease could spoil the hard-won gains. Health experts worry the festivals can set off a whole new cascade of infections, further testing and straining India’s battered health care system. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

In many states, police barricades have been erected around the usually buzzing places of worship to avoid large gatherings.

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India has posted 13,61,356 more recoveries than the active cases, the Union Health Ministry said. “The WHO appreciated the efforts we all put in to contain the spread of the virus in the state. With surge in COVID cases, Punjab imposes daily night curfew from tomorrow.

As India ’ s positive cases hovered around 2.4m, there are growing fears that the virus ’s impact on rural communities could be devastating. The country seems to be entering a dangerous new phase of rising infections in small towns and villages such as Khankari. “Khankari is tiny.

But this could change.

Nearly 1 billion Indians will soon celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of light, and the country’s biggest. Socializing is key part of the most highly anticipated event of the year, with malls and markets buzzing with shoppers. It also traditionally brings in a massive increase in consumer spending across India.

Even though the government is expecting the festival to help resuscitate the ailing economy, it is also worried about people packing together, foregoing social distancing and masks.

Effigies of mythical demon king Ravana stand for sale by the side of a road ahead of Hindu festival Dussehra, in New Delhi, India, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. So far, the colorful and elaborate rituals in the festival season have been scaled down because of the coronavirus pandemic. The celebrations have become muted. The towering displays of religious sculptures are rare, and at many places, prayers have gone virtual, with organizers live streaming the sessions for the devotees. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup) © Provided by Associated Press Effigies of mythical demon king Ravana stand for sale by the side of a road ahead of Hindu festival Dussehra, in New Delhi, India, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. So far, the colorful and elaborate rituals in the festival season have been scaled down because of the coronavirus pandemic. The celebrations have become muted. The towering displays of religious sculptures are rare, and at many places, prayers have gone virtual, with organizers live streaming the sessions for the devotees. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

Such concerns prompted Prime Minister Narendra Modi to address the nation in a televised speech earlier this week, warning people of “any laxity” during the festive season that "could strain India’s health system.”

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India recorded its largest daily spike in coronavirus cases, adding 1,400 new infections to its tally of more than 16,000 amid a nationwide lockdown that’ s about to enter its fourth week. The South Asian nation’ s cases have been surging over the last week as it gradually scales up its testing capacity.

To date, India has recorded 793,802 cases of the coronavirus, with 21,604 related deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. India has recorded the world' s third-biggest outbreak of Covid-19 infections, behind only the U. S . and Brazil, respectively.

A woman holds a child as she stands in queue to offer prayers at Bhadrakali temple during Navratri, or festival of nine nights, in Ahmedabad, India, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. Weeks after India fully opened up from a harsh lockdown and began to modestly turn a corner by cutting new infections by near half, a Hindu festival season is raising fears that the disease could spoil the hard-won gains. Health experts worry the festivals can set off a whole new cascade of infections, further testing and straining India’s battered health care system. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki) © Provided by Associated Press A woman holds a child as she stands in queue to offer prayers at Bhadrakali temple during Navratri, or festival of nine nights, in Ahmedabad, India, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. Weeks after India fully opened up from a harsh lockdown and began to modestly turn a corner by cutting new infections by near half, a Hindu festival season is raising fears that the disease could spoil the hard-won gains. Health experts worry the festivals can set off a whole new cascade of infections, further testing and straining India’s battered health care system. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)

India is second to the United States with the largest coronavirus outbreak. Last month, the country hit a peak of nearly 100,000 cases in a single day, but since then daily infections have fallen by about half and deaths by about a third.

Some experts say the decline in cases suggests the virus may have finally reached a plateau but others question the testing methods. India's testing rate has remained constant but it is relying heavily on antigen tests, which are faster but less accurate than traditional RT-PCR tests.

Volunteers pack prasad, or devotional offering made to a deity typically consisting of food that is later shared among devotees, to be sent to the homes of devotees in an effort to prevent large gatherings at the temple during the Durga Puja festival in New Delhi, India, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. Weeks after India fully opened up from a harsh lockdown and began to modestly turn a corner by cutting new infections by near half, a Hindu festival season is raising fears that the disease could spoil the hard-won gains. Health experts worry the festivals can set off a whole new cascade of infections, further testing and straining India’s battered health care system. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup) © Provided by Associated Press Volunteers pack prasad, or devotional offering made to a deity typically consisting of food that is later shared among devotees, to be sent to the homes of devotees in an effort to prevent large gatherings at the temple during the Durga Puja festival in New Delhi, India, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. Weeks after India fully opened up from a harsh lockdown and began to modestly turn a corner by cutting new infections by near half, a Hindu festival season is raising fears that the disease could spoil the hard-won gains. Health experts worry the festivals can set off a whole new cascade of infections, further testing and straining India’s battered health care system. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

Even as the reasons behind the decline are not fully clear, India is still clocking more than 50,000 cases a day, making any new surge all the more important.

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A flower vendor stands with a bunch of garlands for sale as shoppers walk past at a wholesale flower market ahead of the Hindu festival of Dussehra, in Bengaluru, India, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Weeks after India fully opened up from a harsh lockdown and began to modestly turn a corner by cutting new infections by near half, a Hindu festival season is raising fears that the disease could spoil the hard-won gains. Health experts worry the festivals can set off a whole new cascade of infections, further testing and straining India’s battered health care system. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi) © Provided by Associated Press A flower vendor stands with a bunch of garlands for sale as shoppers walk past at a wholesale flower market ahead of the Hindu festival of Dussehra, in Bengaluru, India, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Weeks after India fully opened up from a harsh lockdown and began to modestly turn a corner by cutting new infections by near half, a Hindu festival season is raising fears that the disease could spoil the hard-won gains. Health experts worry the festivals can set off a whole new cascade of infections, further testing and straining India’s battered health care system. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

These fears stem largely from India's initial success story — until it wasn't.

In June, the southern coastal state of Kerala was cheered for flattening the curve, generating worldwide appreciation, even from the United Nations. But in a stunning reversal, it now fares as the second-worst state in active coronavirus cases in the country.

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan blamed “gross negligence” during the 10-day Onam festival celebrations in late August for Kerala's virus surge. Since then, reported infections there have jumped by five times, far outpacing the nationwide trend.

A boy checks his mobile phone as his sister and brother sit by a deserted worship venue for Durga Puja festival in New Delhi, India, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. The Hindu festival of Durga Puja, a time for devotional dancing in front of the idols of Goddess Durga, the eight-arms deity worshipped for her graciousness as well as her fearsome power, is bereft of all the grandiose that accompanies the rituals because of the coronavirus pandemic. There are no majestic idols, fairs, or cultural performances either. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup) © Provided by Associated Press A boy checks his mobile phone as his sister and brother sit by a deserted worship venue for Durga Puja festival in New Delhi, India, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. The Hindu festival of Durga Puja, a time for devotional dancing in front of the idols of Goddess Durga, the eight-arms deity worshipped for her graciousness as well as her fearsome power, is bereft of all the grandiose that accompanies the rituals because of the coronavirus pandemic. There are no majestic idols, fairs, or cultural performances either. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

Kerala’s story has alarmed health experts who fear similar problems in the runup to Diwali that could reverse the gains.

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“If we don’t avoid socializing during the upcoming festival season, I fear we will be back to where we started,“ said Dr. T. Jacob John, a retired virologist. “There is a significant risk ahead of us.”

Devotees offer prayers during Durga Puja festival in Gauhati, India, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. Weeks after India fully opened up from a harsh lockdown and began to modestly turn a corner by cutting new infections by near half, a Hindu festival season is raising fears that the disease could spoil the hard-won gains. Health experts worry the festivals can set off a whole new cascade of infections, further testing and straining India’s battered health care system. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath) © Provided by Associated Press Devotees offer prayers during Durga Puja festival in Gauhati, India, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. Weeks after India fully opened up from a harsh lockdown and began to modestly turn a corner by cutting new infections by near half, a Hindu festival season is raising fears that the disease could spoil the hard-won gains. Health experts worry the festivals can set off a whole new cascade of infections, further testing and straining India’s battered health care system. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)

For the many faithful, scaled-down celebrations aren't bringing home festival cheer and the urge to step out is only growing.

Sumita Chaterjee’s family has avoided outdoor gatherings for months after the 64-year-old resident of New Delhi and her granddaughter survived the virus in late June.

FILE - In this Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, file photo, Indians, wearing face mask and maintaining physical distance, participate in religious rituals during Navratri festival celebrations in Ahmedabad, India. Weeks after India fully opened up from a harsh lockdown and began to modestly turn a corner by cutting new infections by near half, a Hindu festival season is raising fears that the disease could spoil the hard-won gains. Health experts worry the festivals can set off a whole new cascade of infections, further testing and straining India’s battered health care system. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - In this Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, file photo, Indians, wearing face mask and maintaining physical distance, participate in religious rituals during Navratri festival celebrations in Ahmedabad, India. Weeks after India fully opened up from a harsh lockdown and began to modestly turn a corner by cutting new infections by near half, a Hindu festival season is raising fears that the disease could spoil the hard-won gains. Health experts worry the festivals can set off a whole new cascade of infections, further testing and straining India’s battered health care system. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki, File)

But now the family is planning to forego the restraint and take part in a ritual where the idol of goddess Durga will be immersed in a community pool on Sunday. The entire neighborhood is expected to take part in the ritual.

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FILE- In this Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, file photo, Hindu women, some wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, perform rituals outside a temple in Kolkata, India. Weeks after India fully opened up from a harsh lockdown and began to modestly turn a corner by cutting new infections by near half, a Hindu festival season is raising fears that the disease could spoil the hard-won gains. Health experts worry the festivals can set off a whole new cascade of infections, further testing and straining India’s battered health care system. (AP Photo/Bikas Das, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE- In this Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, file photo, Hindu women, some wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, perform rituals outside a temple in Kolkata, India. Weeks after India fully opened up from a harsh lockdown and began to modestly turn a corner by cutting new infections by near half, a Hindu festival season is raising fears that the disease could spoil the hard-won gains. Health experts worry the festivals can set off a whole new cascade of infections, further testing and straining India’s battered health care system. (AP Photo/Bikas Das, File)

“This is a matter of faith,” said Chaterjee. “I know there are risks but we can't make the gods angry.” ___

Associated Press journalists Annirudha Ghosal and Rishi Lekhi contributed to this report.

What the U.S. election means for India .
For India, the Trump years have offered a mixture of spectacle and substance. President Trump did what no U.S. leader had ever done before: share a stage with his Indian counterpart at rallies attended by tens of thousands of people. The events offered Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi a chance to win political points domestically while cementing their bond as right-leaning nationalist leaders.

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