No foreign dignitary will attend this year's Republic Day celebrations as the chief guest due to the coronavirus pandemic, the foreign ministry said today. "Due to the global COVID-19 situation, it has been decided that this year there will not be any foreign head of state or government as the chief guest for our Republic Day event," ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.
Earlier, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was expected to be the chief guest this year. But he cancelled his visit following the spread of a highly infectious mutant strain of the virus that has affected thousands of people in the UK.
The notification from his office came earlier this month, hours after he announced a fresh lockdown in the United Kingdom. The British Prime Minister has said it was important for him to remain in the UK to focus on the domestic response to Covid-19, his office said.
The scale of the parade at Delhi's Rajpath has also been cut down in view of the pandemic. The number of attendees at the ceremonial boulevard has been slashed from 1.15 lakh to 25,000. Only 160 children will attend the function instead of the usual 600. None of them will be under the age of 15.
The army will have six marching contingents, and each contingent will have 96 soldiers instead of 144 soldiers. With the numbers reduced, the contingents will be rectangular in shape and not a square.
On Saturday, India will roll out the two Covid vaccines that received approval earlier this month. One crore health workers across the country and two crore frontline workers will be administered the vaccine initially. Next will be the turn of people over the age of 50 years and those with co-morbidities like diabetes or hypertension. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will launch the vaccine via video conferencing at 10.30 am.
The government has been concerned over a tractor rally planned on the Republic Day by farmers protesting against the contentious farm laws. In an application to the Supreme Court, the government contended that he rally, if held, will cause "embarrassment to the nation".