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India COVID-19 cases surge to world’s second highest

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India surpasses Brazil in number of coronavirus cases, with the government blaming the second wave on people not following COVID-19 guidelines.

Video Transcript

ELIZABETH PURANAM: More than 2 million Hindu pilgrims gathered on the banks of the Ganges River before immersing themselves in the water on Monday. The three-month Kumbh Mela festival began in Uttarakhand state in January. It's going ahead this year despite India seeing a record number of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Police say they're unable to enforce restrictions because of the sheer size of the crowds.

SANJAY GUNJYAL: [SPEAKING HINDI]

INTERPRETER 1: If we try to enforce social distancing, an accident or stampede-like situation can occur. So we're trying to avoid that. We are not able to implement social distancing at the banks despite wanting to do so.

ELIZABETH PURANAM: But elsewhere in the country, restrictions such as night curfews and weekend lockdowns are being imposed. The number of cases in India has risen from an average of around 10,000 a day in early February to 130,000 in the past week. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and health officials say the rise is because of a severe decline in appropriate actions, like wearing masks and social distancing. But despite that, Modi and many other politicians have been holding large rallies in the five states where regional elections are underway.

VINITA PANDEY: [SPEAKING HINDI]

INTERPRETER 2: The leaders are holding public rallies to garner support. Mamata Banerjee, Amit Shah, and Narendra Modi are holding rallies at different places, but no one's paying attention to the spread of coronavirus and the deaths caused by it.

ELIZABETH PURANAM: Medical experts say such gatherings should not be allowed to take place.

ISHWAR GILADA: We are in a bad shape. Secondly, uh, people talk about Maharashtra state or Mumbai city where I'm sitting today, but other states in the country, they are not equally bad, they are extremely bad. Because Maharashtra in last one month had jumped four times up, but there are states like Uttar Pradesh or Bihar that jumped by 125 times in one month.

ELIZABETH PURANAM: As cases rise rapidly, many states have also complained of vaccine shortages, which the government denies. The Indian government is running behind schedule to vaccinate 300 million people in the first half of this year. With the country clearly in the throes of a second wave of the coronavirus, its drugs regulatory body is meeting on Monday to consider emergency use approval of the Russian made Sputnik vaccine. Elizabeth Puranam, Al Jazeera, New Delhi.