Worried over an increase in coronavirus cases as Holi nears, and large numbers of migrant workers return home to celebrate the festival, the Uttar Pradesh government on Tuesday banned processions or gatherings in public spaces without prior permission. Those above 60 years and below 10 - age groups experts say are most vulnerable to the virus - will not be allowed at all.
The UP Chief Secretary wrote to field officers across the state, directing them to ensure people comply with all Covid protocols, including wearing face masks and maintaining social distance.
The Chief Secretary also directed that people travelling to UP from states experiencing a surge in Covid cases - such as Maharashtra, Punjab and national capital Delhi - be tested for the virus.
Although measures outlined by the state to control the spread of the virus during the festive season - when cases are expected to spike - are welcome, the on-ground reality is different.
On Monday thousands violated Covid guidelines as they gathered outside a temple in Mathura to celebrate 'laddu maar Holi'. Many were without face masks and social distancing was absent.
A video shared by news agency ANI showed a sea of devotees jostling and shoving each other to catch laddus (sweets) thrown to them by temple workers.
There were similar scenes on Tuesday when another variant of Holi - 'lath maar', which is even more famous - was celebrated by thousands of people, most of whom, again, were without face masks and practiced no social distancing
"About corona, I can tell you that there is no corona here," a devotee told news agency ANI.
"Cases are rising and we are the cusp of a second wave. There is a lot of crowding in Mathura and Vrindavan because of Holi and people are not following protocols. I urge everyone to mask up," Dr Rajeev Gupta, the Additional Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of Mathura district, said.
State authorities are concerned given the surge in Covid cases across India - over 1.3 lakh have been reported in the past 72 hours alone. More worryingly, the number of infections from mutant strains of the virus has spiked - up from 400 on March 18 to 795 on Tuesday.
Studies show these strains - which originated from the UK, Brazil and South Africa, are up to 70 per cent more contagious. This morning Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said 81 per cent of 401 samples from his state had tested positive for the UK strain.
The Chief Minister urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the centre to allow younger people to be included in the vaccination drive, in an effort to break the chain of transmission.
UP's daily Covid cases have risen fast over the past 10 days, with 167 cases on March 12 to 542 on March 22. The positivity rate has jumped from 0.18 per cent to 0.40 per cent in that period.
India has reported an alarming spike in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, with over 40,000 new cases reported every day since March 20. The active caseload - the number of new cases minus recoveries - increased for a 13th straight day today and stands at over 3.45 lakh.
Also on Tuesday the centre said the national vaccination drive would enter its third phase on April 1, in which all those over 45 can get the vaccine. The current phase sees those over 60 and those over 45 but with co-morbidities eligible to get the shot.
With input from ANI