Rulebook For Festive Gatherings In The Time Of COVID-19 More than eight months into the coronavirus pandemic, India finds itself at an uncertain turn

By Prabhjeet Bhatla

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India is heading into its two-and-a-half-month festive season with some good news—a government board of experts says that the COVID-19 pandemic is past its peak and will have run its track by February next year as daily contagions fall by more than one-third in the world's second worst-hit country.

Though, that much of the gain could be lost in a nation where huge community gatherings and mingling is the trademark of festive celebrations, where consumers indulge in an expenditure binge at this time of the year, and where messages about social distancing and masks are being unnoticed by many, health experts warn of resurgence, in a report by an online news portal VOA.

In an address to the nation on Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pointed to Western countries as he requested people not to lower their guard throughout the festive season.

"Recently, we saw many photos and videos where it is clearly seen that people have stopped taking precautions and are not careful anymore. This is not at all right," Modi told the Indian population of 1.3 billion that has counted 7.6 million cases so far.

"Keep in mind, be it America or countries in Europe, cases lowered but unexpectedly amplified again, that too alarmingly," he said.

While Modi's message is usually regarded cautiously in the country, there are fears that people tired of months of limitations might find it tough to resist socializing during the festive season this year.

Five months ago, the United Nations (UN) praised India for its aggressive tracking and supervision that kept COVID-19 numbers low and helped avoid the damage that it was causing in other parts of the country.

However, in recent weeks, India's daily cases have declined from a peak of 93,000 per day in September to about 55,000 this week. The government committee's forecast that India will have "minimal' cases by February is based on projections that many more Indians are likely to have already been infected than reflected in recorded cases.

"Our mathematical model estimates that 30 per cent people in India have been exposed to the virus and by February more than half the population will have antibodies," according to Manindra Agarwal, a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur, in an interview conducted by VOA.

"That is why we estimate that the virus could slow down significantly early next year. But fingers have to be crossed for the festive season–without adhering to protective measures such as masks, we may have a second wave," he further added to his statement during the interview.

More than eight months into the coronavirus pandemic, India finds itself at an uncertain turn.

On the whole, minimizing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 continues to be taxing. This pandemic will not be over any time soon, so we need to figure out how to have pleasant experiences with family and friends.

Nothing is zero risk, but we can all make choices that minimize risk. Preventive measures were issued by the Indian government's ministry of health and family welfare that includes simple public health measures which are to be followed by everyone to reduce the risk of COVID-19 visiting the festivities and are listed below.

Mask up

Use of face covers/masks, whenever you are around people outside of your immediate pod is mandatory. Individuals must maintain a minimum distance of 6 feet in public places as far as feasible.

Wash your hands!

Practice frequent hand washing with soap (for at least 40-60 seconds) and the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers (for at least 20 seconds) should be made wherever possible.

Respiratory etiquettes should be strictly followed

This involves the strict practice of covering one's mouth and nose while coughing/sneezing with a tissue/handkerchief/flexed elbow and disposing off used tissues, properly.

Self-help

Self-monitoring of health by all and reporting any illness at the earliest to state and district helpline.

Nation's innovative force

Installation and use of Aarogya Setu app is advised.

The course of the pandemic in India will pivot in the coming weeks, independent experts say.

Earlier this month, health minister Harsh Vardhan, said, "No religion or God says that you have to celebrate in an ostentatious way that you have to visit pandals and temples and mosques to pray."

It is yet to be seen if that message will be paid attention to, in a country where throng of people is a norm at Indian festivals.

Prabhjeet Bhatla

Former Staff

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