While experts are still assessing if India's current wave is linked to this variant of the virus, they are concerned over recent ‘superspreader’ events like political rallies and the Kumbh Mela.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government repeatedly stressed the importance of following COVID-appropriate behaviour, but safety protocols were ironically missing during his massive BJP rallies held in poll-bound Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Puducherry.
Thousands of BJP supporters jostled shoulder-to-shoulder to get a glimpse of star campaigners, including party president JP Nadda, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and the prime minister himself.
This is not to say that other parties refrained from organising mass gatherings. Similar crowds were seen at public meeting of Bengal's ruling Trinamool Congress, the Congress and other parties.
Voting for the Assembly polls concluded in Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry on April 6. West Bengal, where an unprecedented eight-phase election is underway, two more round of polls are left. Unsurprisingly, the political campaigning continued in full swing until the Election Commission barred public meetings with over 500 people on April 22.
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Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had, however, announced the cancellation of all his political rallies in Bengal on April 18. Mamata Banerjee-led TMC, too, was not far behind and said that the party would only hold one ‘symbolic’ meet on April 26, the last day of polling. Modi also cancelled his rallies in Bengal, just a few hours before the EC announcement.
Coronavirus cases surged alarmingly not only in all poll-bound states, but some others too.
Union Health Ministry data shows that India’s COVID-19 curve started showing an upward trend from March 15 in most states, including all the poll-bound regions.
In Bengal, there's a clear upward trend in daily cases since March-end and a very sharp increases afterwards. As per COVIDIndia.org, West Bengal reported a 956 percent rise in active caseload in just 22 days. Its tally of active cases multiplied from 6,513 on April 1 to 68,798 on April 22.
According to a News18 report, Tamil Nadu has reported a 62 percent increase in active cases and for Assam it was a 230 percent jump between April 12 and 19.
Supporters of the West Bengal Chief Minister an Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee attend an election campaign rally ahead of the fourth phase of the assembly election, amid the spread of COVID-19 in Kolkata on April 7, 2021. (Image: Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri)
In the same period, India overall witnessed a 60.64 percent surge in active cases and Maharashtra, India’s worst-affected state, reported 19.79 percent increase.
Election rallies may have led to a spike in cases locally, the much bigger concern for health experts has been the Kumbh Mela.
The government gave the go-ahead for the congregation, which runs through the end of April. Between 1 and 5 million people have attended the festival each day in the city of Haridwar, on the banks of the river Ganga in Uttarakhand.
Days after taking a dip, one prominent religious leader died -- shortly after testing positive for the infection.
The Centre and the state government issued several directives aimed at controlling the spread of the novel coronavirus at the Kumbh. Screening checkpoints were set up, a limited time period of half an hour was given to each akhara and all visitors were asked to produce negative COVID-19 test reports. But the guidelines remained a paper tiger. COVID-19 protocols were not enforced fearing stampede, and some devotees were reportedly allowed even without a negative test report.
Images emerged from Haridwar of millions praying, eating and bathing, often without masks and in close proximity with one another. As per reports, around 2.8 million people took a dip in the Ganga on April 12, second of the four shahi snans, and a similar number visited the mela on April 14, the third shahi snan. The next and last shahi snan is on April 27.
Even before the Kumbh began, the city and neighbouring areas had emerged as COVID-19 hotspots. As the festival began, thousands of seers and pilgrims tested positive.
In response to concerns that it could turn into a “superspreader” event, Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat said no one would face restrictions as “the faith in God will overcome the fear of COVID-19.” He too had tested positive for the virus.
Hindu holy men take holy a dip in River Ganga during the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, Uttarakhand on April 12, 2021. (Image: AP Photo/Karma Sonam)