(Reuters) – Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned on Tuesday against overcrowding at tourist sites and called for faster vaccinations against the coronavirus even as official figures indicated a slower spread of new infections.
The Indian Medical Association (IMA) said on Monday it feared gathering of tourists and pilgrims could become super spreader events that fuel a deadly third wave of infections and it warned against complacency.
“I will say very emphatically that it is not OK to have huge crowds in hill stations, markets, without wearing masks,” Modi said in comments posted on Twitter while acknowledging the tourism industry has been badly hit by lockdowns.
India’s coronavirus caseload of 30.91 million infections is the world’s second-highest behind the United States.
Its official tally of deaths is 410,784, many of them coming in a brutal second wave of infections in April and May when people died outside hospitals as they waited for beds and bodies were washing up on the banks of the holy Ganges river.
On Tuesday, authorities reported 32,906 new cases – the lowest daily tally since mid-March – compared with some 400,000 a day at the height of the second wave.
The government last month launched a campaign to inoculate all adults, with a target of 950 million people by the end of the year, but the pace of the drive has faltered because of shortages of vaccines and various logistical hurdles, and only 8% of the target is fully vaccinated.
Modi called for vigilance against new variants of the virus and a faster campaign to get the population protected.
The Delta variant that is spreading in many countries was first detected in India where experts have recently identified what they believe is a new variant they have called Delta plus.
“To combat the third wave, we have to keep speeding up the process of vaccination,” Modi said.
Last week, the government administered fewer than 4 million vaccine doses a day compared with a record 9.17 million on the day Modi launched the campaign.
While new daily cases are at a three-month low, deaths have not fallen at the same pace, leading to concern that state governments, which have authority over their own restrictions are lifting lockdown too quickly.
India reported 2,020 new COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday but that tally included a backlog of hundreds of previously unreported fatalities in the central state Madhya Pradesh, according to health ministry data.
The state’s revision of its death toll comes less than a month after Maharashtra and Bihar, India’s two most populous states, revised their death tolls up sharply, leading to concern about under-reporting and calls for a wide review.
The government has previously dismissed experts who have raised suspicion that official death tolls were not an accurate reflection of fatalities but some now believe more stringent auditing may lead to more revisions of figures upwards.
“The kind of community transmission of this nature and intensity calls for periodic mortality surveys,” Rajib Dasgupta, head of the Centre of Social Medicine & Community Health at Jawaharlal Nehru University said.
(Reporting by Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru and Neha Arora in New Delhi; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman, Robert Birsel)