With India’s Covid caseload reaching alarming proportions – daily cases have hit the 2.6 lakh mark with the number of daily deaths reaching 1,493 – there is an urgent need to strike a balance between pandemic mitigation efforts and public activities. While restrictions on movement and businesses are already in place across districts and cities in the country, a return to the hard lockdown of last year would be disastrous for the economy. The country can ill afford another economic blow, especially since it has hardly recovered from the previous one.
At the same time, it’s also clear that Covid cases can’t be allowed to grow at the current pace. The healthcare infrastructure is again stretched in several states and cities with hospital beds and oxygen supply turning dicey. In such a scenario, the minimum that authorities must do is prevent potential super spreader events at all costs. Which is why the ongoing Kumbh Mela and the Bengal assembly polls must be seen in the context of the current extraordinary circumstances.
It’s welcome that after PM Modi’s call for observing the Kumbh symbolically from hereon, Juna akhada – the largest of the 13 sects of seers in the country – decided to pull out of the religious festival. With lakhs thronging to Haridwar, 1,700 tested Covid positive last week with Mahanirvani akhada’s head even dying from the disease. And with devotees going back to their home states after a dip in the Ganga, there’s a serious risk they will become Covid carriers to interior hamlets of the country. Thus, curtailing the Kumbh and saving lives of devotees must become priority.
Similarly, the long-drawn Bengal election is proving to be another Covid unsafe event with political parties holding large rallies with little safety protocols. The first 15 days of the month have already seen new Covid cases in the state rise to 49,970 with 151 fatalities. Although the Election Commission has rejected the proposal of clubbing the remaining three phases of the election, saying such a move will be unfair to the candidates in these rounds, the proposal needs to be relooked. After all, a majority of the seats have already finished polling while many in the remaining three phases are located in urban areas like Kolkata. Hence, conducting these phases in one shot is both possible and preferable to temporary curbs like restricting campaigning between 7 to 10pm. Again, these are extraordinary circumstances that demand authorities and the public adapt to the new normal.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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