The recent spike in coronavirus cases in Kerala – confirmed infections increased by around 1.35 lakh between October 1 and 17 – is the result of “gross negligence during Onam”, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said Sunday afternoon, lashing out at the southern state for allowing increased travel and outdoor public activity during the festival season.
Dr Vardhan said the state’s “epicurve had changed completely due to Onam festivities… daily new cases nearly doubled” and, ahead of a prolonged pan-India festival season that includes Diwali and Dussehra, warned other states against negligence in Covid planning at this time.
“Kerala is paying the price for gross negligence during recent Onam festivities, when state-wise unlocking of services with increase in inter and intrastate travel for trade and tourism led to the spreading of COVID-19 cases. The epicurve of Kerala changed completely… daily new cases nearly doubled,” Dr Vardhan said during “Sunday Saamvad“, his weekly social media interaction.
“This ought to serve as a good lesson for all state governments against being negligent in planning for the festival season,” he added.
Dr Vardhan’s criticism comes hours after a central government-appointed committee cautioned that relaxing Covid-related restrictions during the festive season (and the winter months) could lead to a sharp increase in new cases – as many as 26 lakh within a month.
Pointing to Kerala, the committee said there is “evidence large gatherings can cause rapid spread (of the virus)” and that infection probability increased by 32 per cent after September 8.
Kerala celebrated Onam between August 22 and September 2. The following day Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan warned of “Onam clusters” and said these could lead to a jump in new cases.
“Charity must take precedence over celebration this festive season. My own celebrations shall remain subdued due to the heart-rending impact of COVID-19 on lakhs of people,” Dr Vardhan said today.
This is the second time in a week that Dr Vardhan has spoken about an increase in cases because of activity during the festive season. During last week’s “Sunday Saamvad” the Health Minister urged people against congregating in large numbers to prove your faith or religion.
“No religious leaders say that festivals should be celebrated by putting lives in danger… no Gods say you need to go to big pandals to pray,” he said, appealing to people stay indoors as much as possible.
Dr Vardhan also dismissed reports that the Covid virus had mutated in India and would prove more difficult to protect against by any vaccine that may become available in the near future.
India has reported close to 75 lakh Covid cases since the outbreak began in China’s Wuhan in December last year. This morning the Health Ministry said over 62,000 new cases had been detected in the past 24 hours.
The good news, though, is that the increase to active caseloads has been falling over the past weeks. On Friday this figure dropped to below eight lakh for the first time in 46 days.
The government-appointed committee that released its findings today also said that India had crossed the coronavirus peak and predicted that the epidemic could be brought under control by early next year if all measures were followed.