Hundreds of thousands of people traveled around India this week as the country prepared to celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights and one of the country’s major holidays, on Thursday.
Bazaars and malls across India filled up with shoppers as India reported its lowest number of daily coronavirus cases since February. The crowded scenes were a marked turnaround from last year’s festival, which was observed without the usual fanfare of prayers and fireworks. A year ago, the authorities deployed police officers in residential areas to restrict large gatherings and group prayers.
This year, the festival seemed to be back in full swing, prompting the mass movement of Indian migrant workers from cities and towns back to their village homes to celebrate with family.
More than 680,000 people flew from airports across the country on Monday in the lead-up to the festival, according to government officials. The surge in traffic was an apparent sign of confidence in the country’s inoculation campaign, which has successfully administered more than a billion doses of coronavirus vaccines, with 54 percent of the population having received at least one shot and 25 percent fully inoculated, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford.
But health experts warned that large-scale gatherings could still turn into superspreader events and fuel a further wave of coronavirus infections, particularly as tourism hot spots across the country swarmed with visitors.
Dr. Hemant Thacker, who works as a physician in Mumbai, India’s financial capital, said that he was worried about the relaxed attitude.
“We should be extra careful when it comes to masks, and avoid large gatherings,” he said.
India has one of the world’s highest death tolls from the coronavirus, recording about 35 million cases and more than 450,000 fatalities, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Experts say the true numbers are almost certainly much higher.
The Indian Ministry of Health reported 12,885 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, with 461 deaths in the previous 24 hours. In May, the number of new daily cases peaked at more than 400,000, with more than 4,000 deaths per day, according to the Johns Hopkins figures.