The government has warned against laxity in following Covid-appropriate behaviour, with particular reference to disquieting visuals from the past few days of large crowds at popular holiday and tourist destinations.
The Health Ministry described these videos – which show hundreds flocking to hill stations like Himachal Pradesh’s Manali – as “cause for concern”, and reminded people the virus spreads aggressively in crowded places.
In an attempt to drive home its point it referred to a spike in cases in the United Kingdom.
A cumulative 1.19 lakh people were allowed in to London’s Wembley stadium in June for group stage and knock-out matches of the 2020 European football championship. An estimated 1.22 lakh were present for the two semi finals this week, and around 60,000 are expected to attend Sunday’s final.
England is now facing a new wave of cases, fuelled partly by the football and contagious variants, and partly by (an ill advised, some experts say) emergence from lockdown. This week the UK, which is likely to lift restrictions from July 19, saw over 30,000 daily new cases for the first time since January.
Experts fear a further spike in the days and weeks after Sunday’s match, which is England’s first final in 55 years and which was celebrated by thousands of fans – many without masks – partying in pubs and city streets with no thought to social distancing.
It is important to note, however, that the UK has one of the world’s strongest vaccination programmes; 68.2 per cent have received at least one dose and 51.1 per cent both, according to Reuters.
The Wembley matches have been described as “pilot events” for larger crowds – where fans must either test negative for COVID-19 or be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.
By contrast, India has given one dose to just 21.5 per cent and two to 5 per cent of its population, leaving crores susceptible to more severe and symptomatic COVID-19 infection.
Euro 2020, scheduled for last year but postponed because of the pandemic, has been held in cities across Europe – from London to St Petersburg in Russia, with crowds at almost every match.
However, in spite of European countries having generally stronger vaccine drives than India, several EU countries have expressed concern that cases could increase in the aftermath of Euro 2020.
This week the World Health Organization called for better monitoring of cases and travelling fans, with concern that the more transmissible ‘delta’ variant of the virus may be spreading as a result.
“There will be a new wave… unless we remain disciplined,” the agency’s Europe director Hans Kluge said. Asked if Euro 2020 was a ‘super-spreader’, he said: “I hope not… but this can’t be excluded.”
In India, large gatherings leading to an increase in Covid cases took place several times this year, including during Maha Kumbh in Uttarakhand in April, and while the government and opposition parties campaigned during elections in five states in April-May.
The second wave in India began then, with the peak of over four lakh cases a day in mid-May.
Sports activities and crowds at stadiums in India have been controlled (they were banned in the initial phases of the lockdown) but, as different states ease restrictions, these too are now being opened up.
The India-England cricket series earlier this year started out with crowds at stadiums; a record attendance of nearly 60,000 was reported from one T-20 match in Gujarat’s Ahmedabad. But as the second Covid wave started to take hold, fans were banned from attending other matches.
With input from AFP, Reuters