With Diwali and other major religious celebrations fast approaching, fears are growing that India could be hit by a festival-fuelled surge in coronavirus cases.
The southern state of Kerala – previously hailed as a model for its actions in containing the virus – has already been hit by a fresh spurt of infections attributed to people mingling during the 10-day Onam festival in August. Health experts now fear similar problems could emerge as North India enters its festival season in the run up to Diwali on November 14. In addition to Diwali, large public celebrations are expected to take place for Durga Puja, a week-long festival starting on October 22, and Dussehra, which falls on October 25.
Hanging over these three religious festivals is the experience of Kerala, which was feted by the United Nations as recently as June for its systematic testing, contact tracing and quarantining regimes but has since seen a stunning reversal in fortunes.
Kerala now has the third highest number of active cases per million population – more than 230,000 – of any state in India.