The central government has started a campaign dubbed Mission 100 Days to control the spread of Covid-19 infections during the festive season, said people familiar with the matter.
There were 230,971 active Covid-19 cases as on Sunday, according to government data, with 34 districts in nine states and Union territories still reporting a weekly positivity rate of at least 10 percent.
A weekly rate of five percent or less indicates the spread of infections is somewhat under control, according to the World Health Organisation.
There are fears that the three-month festive season that started in October could see a resurgence of Covid-19.
"This year should be about Covid-safe festivities, which in effect means people celebrate festivals largely online to avoid spreading Covid-19," a central government official said on condition of anonymity. "We are asking states to be extra vigilant during the next 100 days, and ensure that Covid-appropriate behaviour is observed. Only then we will be able to save the country from an expected surge in cases."
A "prevention fatigue has set in among the masses, which is why it is more important to make extra efforts to make people understand the importance of not giving up right now", the official said. "It is important to keep on doing what we are doing to prevent the disease spread with greater intensity, and look for ways to improve on existing measures for better effect."
The Centre has been regularly issuing guidelines to states, asking them to intensify containment measures in areas or districts that continue to report high caseloads, such as aggressive testing and strictly marking containment zones.
States have also been asked to generate awareness among people so that it becomes a collective effort, especially during the festive season, as new cases have always seen a surge after festivals.
The Centre has asked states to not allow mass gatherings in containment zones and districts reporting at least 5 percent case positivity.
Even when gatherings are allowed in such districts, they should need permissions and there has to be caps on the number of attendees.
Physical visits or meetings are to be discouraged in favour of online darshans and virtual celebrations. All rituals such as effigy burning, pandal hopping during the Durga Puja, Dandiya and Garba, and Chhath Puja should be symbolic, the guidelines said.
"Crowded spaces are fertile ground for disease transmission. Therefore, it is important to not allow crowding, especially in closed spaces, as it has been well-established that the disease is airborne," said Dr GC Khilnani, former head, pulmonology department, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi. "This is not the time to drop your guard as an infectious disease can always flare up if there is laxity in Covid-appropriate behaviour."
Twenty-eight districts across 12 states and Union territories are reporting a weekly positivity rate between 5 and 10 percent.
Five states — Mizoram, Kerala, Sikkim, Manipur and Meghalaya — are reporting a weekly positivity rate of at least 5 percent.
"It has to be a collective effort if we want to stop experiencing more waves. Since it is people's behaviour that will eventually determine whether we see any more waves or not and if we do then how intense those are going to be, it is pertinent for the people to adhere to Covid-appropriate behaviour and for the governments to ensure it is strictly implemented," said another official, also requesting anonymity.
Health ministry officials on Thursday urged people to be careful during the festive season as the pandemic is far from over.
"We cannot afford to take the current stable situation for granted. We have to be mindful of the fact that the pandemic is still going on and can take an untoward turn if we are not careful. People need to avoid crowded places and unnecessary travel; stay home as far as possible and celebrate festivals virtually with shopping online," said Lav Agarwal, joint secretary, ministry of health and family welfare.
Intensifying measures during the festival season does not mean we can relax at other times, said the first official cited earlier.
"We have to be careful throughout because we are dealing with a highly infectious disease. However, these three months require extra caution, and that is what all states and Union territories have been explained," he said.