Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday asked people not to be complacent during the festive season, urging them to continue wearing masks and follow social distancing.
But the message doesn’t seem to have reached the northern state of Bihar where large crowds have massed at political rallies ahead of state elections, scheduled to begin on 28 October.
All parties, including Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have ramped up campaigning ahead of the elections.
Footage from some of the rallies shows people jostling to get a glimpse of politicians, and hardly anybody appears to be wearing masks.
Virologists and doctors called the large gatherings “callous” and said that such complacency could have devastating consequences, enabling the virus to spread much faster.
India has recorded more than seven million cases so far, but its daily case count has been steadily dropping in recent weeks even as testing has remained consistent. Although some have said this suggests that the worst of the pandemic is over, others have cautioned against celebrating too soon.
The Election Commission has also warned politicians against flouting Covid-19 safety rules. But it seems to have had little impact as crowds continue to gather at rallies.
Virologist Dr Shahid Jameel says political parties need to be more responsible and they need to educate their cadre.
“We see thousands of people in these rallies and hardly anyone with a mask. It is the responsibility of every political party to ask its followers to follow safety rules.
“That is the only way we know to prevent infection [from spreading],” he told the BBC.
The first phase of polling will be held on 28 October, and the other two phases will follow on 3 and 7 November. Results will be announced on 10 November.
The BJP-led coalition is seeking to be voted back into power – it’s facing opposition from an alliance of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Congress party, and also from other regional parties.
The stakes are high for all political parties. Their initial campaigns were virtual but now they have moved offline.
तेजस्वी यादव के चुनावी सभाओं में जिस कदर जन सैलाब उमड़ रहा है,उसे देखकर लालू जी के 1995 वाली चुनावी सभा की याद ताजा हो गई है। तेजस्वी जी की सभाओं में समाज के सभी वर्गों और समूहों का जो जुनून देखने को मिल रहा है उससे एक बात स्पष्ट है कि महागठवंधन ऐतिहासिक जीत दर्ज करने जा रही है। pic.twitter.com/xp6gIr7NxN
— Chitranjan Gagan (@ChitranjanGaga1) October 21, 2020
Mr Modi is addressing three rallies on Friday and Congress party’s Rahul Gandhi is also holding campaign events.
A senior journalist in the state told the BBC that nobody “was really talking about coronavirus as a campaign issue”.
“It seems like the virus has disappeared from the state. People have become complacent and politicians are not doing enough to warn people,” he said.
The state government
By Robert Preidt, HealthDay Reporter
SUNDAY, Oct. 18, 2020 (HealthDay News) — As the weather gets cooler and social activities move indoors, Americans need to take steps to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, an expert says.
“We now know that if we are going to socialize with people who are not in our household — or in our pandemic pod — being outside or in a well-ventilated space is better than being inside without outside air circulation,” said Lisa Lee, a public health expert at Virginia Tech University.
If you’re planning indoor gatherings, keep the number of guests as low as possible, leave enough space to maintain 6 feet or more between people, and wear face coverings.
“These preventive measures are more important than ever because we know that recent COVID-19 cases are among younger people, who are less likely to have symptoms and might not even know that they are contagious,” Lee said in a university news release.
“As families mix — young with old, healthy with frail — we will see more vulnerable people becoming infected and dying,” she added. “Protect your grandparents by making sure everyone wears a mask.”
As for fall traditions such as trick-or-treating on Halloween, visiting pumpkin patches and indoor haunted houses, Lee offered safety guidelines.
Avoid crowds, especially indoors; maintain social distancing; wash your hands often, and wear a face covering.
Consider replacing indoor activities with outdoor ones. For example, take a walk to look at the autumn colors; go for a hike; have a scavenger hunt, or visit a farm that offers fall hay rides. Plan ahead so you can avoid crowds, keep your distance and wear a mask, Lee said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19.
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