Experts call on India to delay major elections as third Covid wave sweeps nation

Public health experts say India risks repeating the same mistakes that came before last year’s devastating second wave if state elections involving 180 million voters go ahead as planned, reports Sravasti Dasgupta

Thursday 20 January 2022 19:10
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<p>A crowd of supporters gather to listen to the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh  on 2 January </p>

A crowd of supporters gather to listen to the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh on 2 January

It is nine months since India experienced one of the world’s worst Covid crises, and infections are sweeping across the country again in a third wave. Yet despite the urgings of public health experts, plans are in full swing for five states to go to the polls in key elections next month.

The jarring scene of mass political rallies being staged amid a backdrop of soaring cases is alarmingly reminiscent of the situation in April last year, when daily infections peaked at 400,000 and the healthcare system was brought to its knees. Conservative official figures state that some 240,000 people died.

In India, elections are invariably characterised by large crowds, with mass rallies an essential part of weeks-long campaigning ahead of polling, which can itself last several weeks in large states. Last year’s experience, and the first weeks of campaigning this year, have shown that social distancing is impossible in such contexts, and attempts to encourage mask-wearing fall on deaf ears.

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