A crucial season: On festivals in the time of COVID-19

Faced with a potential reversal of gains that India has made in slowing the spread of COVID-19, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has appealed against weakening the fight during the annual season of festivals. Over the past six months, numerous individual events have enabled the infection to explode and spread. These have ranged from the opening of wholesale markets and political gatherings to big funerals; many were infected when places of worship were allowed to be thronged. Mr. Modi’s appeal, which comes during the Navratri celebrations, and ahead of Dussehra, Deepavali and other festivals, is to be welcomed, although the opportunity to caution the public was not grasped early enough. Also, in spite of the call to “mask up” on October 8, as part of a communication campaign he launched, its visibility has remained low. Moreover, virus estimations remain a mosaic of data, without a standardised system for testing, tracing and isolation across States. Only broad-brush statistics are available, even as the economy has reopened. The Union Health Ministry’s data point to a rising trend in daily cases in Bihar, Delhi, Maharashtra, Manipur, and West Bengal, while Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, with their high levels of incidence earlier, have started showing a decline in test positivity rates, a more reliable metric than absolute cases. Kerala has experienced a wave blamed on lax behaviour during Onam.

Health messaging on the dangers of another wave of infections can be effective if it is not drowned by repeated emphasis of massive recoveries. States, anxious to present a picture of near-normality to boost economic activity, highlight recoveries over risk, and people are lowering their guard. Mr. Modi has suggested that the fight must not weaken until there is a vaccine, and experts and WHO want countries to learn to live with an endemic virus. In India, the reality is that even as of October 21, the official death toll in a day stood at 717, a not so inconsequential number, and there were 7.4 lakh active cases. The emphasis, therefore, has to be on preparing for the new normal, adopting acknowledged defences such as masking, distancing norms and hand hygiene. In parallel, the Centre should launch policy reform to transform a predominantly commercialised health system into one providing universal coverage. COVID-19 has meant double jeopardy — a loss of income on the one hand and a steep rise in health insurance premiums on the other, after insurers were asked to provide cover for more conditions. Under such circumstances, the cheapest protection against disease and financial loss is prevention, now and into the future. The Centre says it has a communication strategy centred around the theme of safety until March next year. Its efficacy will be tested immediately, by the festival season.

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Printable version | Dec 4, 2020 8:50:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/a-crucial-season-the-hindu-editorial-on-festivals-in-the-time-of-covid-19/article32911700.ece

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