NEW DELHI – India held Diwali celebrations on Saturday with houses and streets decorated with lights and candles although festivities had to be restrained due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Indian authorities fear that family visits and traditional pre-holiday shopping, with the crowded markets that that entails, could fuel a new wave of COVID-19 in a country that already has 8.7 million cases.
The traditional festival of lights coincides with the Hindu New Year and marks the triumph of the god Ram over the demon Ravana and his return from a 14-year exile.
Traditionally, Diwali would be an occasion for dinner with family and friends as well as gift-giving, but prudence prevails in Indian households this year.
“This year we are not going to stop by the neighbors’ houses to hand out candy or anything like that. I’m just going to be home with my family and maybe see a couple of friends, and that’s it,” Dushiant Tanwar, a young man who lives in Mumbai but who went to New Delhi to spend Diwali with his family, told EFE.
“Obviously we are not going to throw firecrackers, it would be idiotic to throw firecrackers right now,” Tanwar added.
In the past, Diwali festivities would not only see the streets of India illuminated by the traditional oil candles but also by the ubiquitous flashing of firecrackers.
Before the pandemic, the millions of detonations and the blanket of highly toxic smoke they left behind was already a source of concern for the authorities, especially because cities like New Delhi are among the most polluted in the world.
This year, the Indian justice system has banned the sale and use of firecrackers in the most polluted cities, although it remains to be seen if the ruling will be respected.
New Delhi registered almost 8,000 new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, according to the Indian health ministry, and has registered record numbers this week.
The head of Delhi’s regional government, Arvind Kejriwal, has blamed the new wave of cases on an increasing level of pollution.
Several studies have linked air pollution to a heightened number of COVID-19 cases.
A report by Xiao Wu and Rachel C. Nethery from Harvard University linked long-term exposure to fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) and COVID-19 mortality rates.
India is the world’s second most affected country by pandemic, with 44,684 new cases and 520 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of infections to 8,773,479 and the total number of deaths to 129,188.