By Ahmad Adil
NEW DELHI (AA) – As India celebrates its festival season, with gatherings and events taking place nationwide, health experts have called for stepped-up precautions and vigilance to hold off a new wave of COVID-19 infections.
The number of daily coronavirus cases has been declining in most parts of the country, having peaked at 400,000 in May and now hovering around 20,000.
Extra precautions are needed to prevent another spike in cases, as the eastern state of West Bengal reported a rise in infections after the annual Hindu festival of Durga Puja.
"We know from various global experiences that when large gatherings take place, whether for religious festivals or tourism purposes, there’s always a rise in the number of cases," Chandrakant Lahariya, a Delhi-based epidemiologist and public health expert, told Anadolu Agency.
"We can't say how much of an increase there will be," he said. "But in India, as we enter the long festival season that extends into early January, there is a need to be vigilant, and there’s no room for complacency."
Lahariya said the country "may see a minor increase in cases, but the focus should be on ensuring that it does not become a major increase."
The government and public must collaborate in order to avoid the infection increase, he suggested, adding that there is no need to be overly concerned, but being “cautious and mindful of COVID-19 behavior will be beneficial.”
Dr. Randeep Guleria, director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences Hospital in New Delhi, also encouraged being aware of the risk of viral transmission during the festival season.
The pandemic is far from over, he said, adding that if people "act responsibly" throughout the festival season, and more people are vaccinated, the difficult period will pass.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also weighed in, saying that "there is no reason to get careless" and urging people to “celebrate our festivals with utmost care."
- Stepping up vaccinations
While new infections are falling across the country, the majority of new cases are being confirmed in the states of Kerala and Maharashtra.
Experts say vaccination efforts should be stepped up across the country, particularly in states where new cases continue to rise.
"Right now, a major challenge is to vaccinate the population with a second dose," epidemiologist Dr. Lalit Kant told Anadolu Agency.
"We need to scale up the vaccine drive and cover the entire population as quickly as possible," he said, noting that vaccine effectiveness falls after six months and that a booster shot may be required.
According to official statistics, over 75% of the country’s eligible people have gotten one dose of the vaccine, while around 31% are fully vaccinated.