Thousands of maskless devotees gather for religious festival . . .
Despite the second COVID-19 wave in India and over 1,700 positive cases, the Uttarakhand state government remains undeterred in hosting April’s month-long Kumbh Mela, one of the largest Hindu festivals in India. Attendees are required to provide negative RT-PCR tests, wear masks, and maintain social distance. But images of the festival paint a very different picture, with thousands of maskless devotees seen gathering and bathing in the Ganges. April also marks the beginning of Ramadan, or Ramzan, for the Muslim community. In 2020, the Delhi mosque of Nizamuddin Markaz was shut down after hosting an international event, deemed a super-spreader, despite lockdown protocols. After noting that other places of worship are open in the capital, the Delhi High Court today relaxed restrictions on gathering and praying at the mosque.
India’s double-mutant variant spreading fast . . .
Over the past couple of months, India has seen large religious events, packed political campaigns for state elections, and mass social gatherings. The surge in COVID-19 cases since mid-March, then, is not surprising. Meanwhile, a new variant discovered across at least five states in India, with double mutations in the spike protein, is causing major concern. Researchers caution that the variant is highly transmissible and has higher infectivity rates. Whether the mutant variant, called B.1.617, is responsible for the surge in India’s COVID-19 cases is still being debated. But the variant is spreading globally and has been detected in various countries, including the U.S., U.K., Singapore, and Australia.
Vaccine diplomacy to vaccine hesitancy . . .
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visions of vaccine diplomacy may have won him favours across the world, but the recent surge in domestic cases has put a pause on the country’s vaccine exports, jeopardizing vaccination timelines globally. The Indian government is struggling to vaccinate the country’s billion-strong population with rising levels of vaccine hesitancy. Mass-vaccination campaigns have helped inoculate millions, but the vaccination program is still focused on older citizens, with the current cut-off at age 45, and those with ailments such as heart disease or diabetes. Currently, India has vaccinated about 7.3% of its total population, and the more mobile and younger population remains without a vaccine. The Indian government has been criticized for its lack of foresight and investment in expanding its domestic vaccine production capacity.