Indians are celebrating Holi, the festival of colours, despite many states restricting gatherings to contain a coronavirus resurgence across the country.
Holi marks the advent of spring and is widely celebrated throughout Hindu-majority India.
Most years, millions of people throw coloured powder and spray water at each other in outdoor celebrations. But for the second consecutive year, people were encouraged to stay home to avoid turning the festivities into superspreader events amid the latest virus surge.
India’s confirmed infections have exceeded 60,000 daily over the past week from a low of about 10,000 in February. On Monday, the health ministry reported 68,020 new cases, the sharpest daily rise since October last year, taking the nationwide tally to more than 12 million.
Daily deaths rose by 291 on Monday, taking the total death toll due to the virus to 161,843.
The latest surge is centred in the western state of Maharashtra, which on Sunday reported 40,414 new coronavirus cases, almost two-thirds of the national total, many of them in the densely populated financial capital Mumbai.
Authorities in Maharashtra, India’s richest state, have tightened travel restrictions and imposed night curfews to prevent the spread of the virus. It is now considering a strict lockdown.
Cases are also rising in the capital New Delhi and states of Punjab, Karnataka, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh.
The surge coincides with multi-stage state elections marked by large gatherings and roadshows, and the Kumbh Mela, or pitcher festival, celebrated in northern Haridwar city, where tens of thousands of Hindu devotees daily take a holy dip in the Ganges river.
Health experts worry that unchecked gatherings can lead to clusters, adding the situation can be controlled if vaccination is opened up for more people and COVID-19 protocols are strictly followed.
India, with a population of more than 1.3 billion, has vaccinated about 60 million people, of whom only 9 million have received both doses of vaccine so far.
However, more than 60 million doses manufactured in India have been exported abroad, prompting widespread criticism that domestic needs should be catered to first.
The government last week said there would be no immediate increase in exports. It said vaccines will be given to everyone over 45 starting April 1.