"Crowds Without Masks In Hill Stations, Markets Cause For Concern": PM Modi

Prime Minister Modi's warning came as a flood of videos and images are shared on social media showing massive crowds at hill stations like Manali in Himachal Pradesh

The Prime Minister was addressing a virtual meeting with the eight chief ministers of northeastern states

New Delhi:

Recent images from hill stations and city markets - of large crowds without face masks and zero social distancing - are a "cause for concern", Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Tuesday, as he underlined the need to follow Covid protocols to ward off a potential third wave of infections.

Addressing a virtual meeting of chief ministers from the eight northeastern states, the Prime Minister stressed the importance of adhering to basic rules - wearing of face masks when in public, avoiding large gatherings, and ensuring vaccination - to prevent a third wave of COVID-19 cases.

"It is true that tourism, business and business have been greatly affected due to coronavirus... but today I will say very emphatically that it is not okay to have huge crowds in hill stations and markets without wearing masks," Prime Minister Modi said.

"The virus does not come and go on its own... we bring it with us when we disobey the rules. Experts are warning us repeatedly that careless behaviour - like overcrowding - will lead to an increase in Covid cases," he said.

"Steps should be taken to prevent crowds... We all need to work together to stop the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic," he added.

The Prime Minister also stressed on the need to ensure rapid and widespread vaccination - a subject that has made headlines with rows over vaccine prices and states complaining of a lack of doses.

He also red-flagged the increase in cases in the northeastern states; last week central government data showed 47 of India's 73 districts with a positivity rate of over 10 per cent were from the northeast.

He said stricter "micro-level" steps were needed to check the spread of the virus in those districts, and called for greater emphasis on micro-containment zones. The Assam model - Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma plans to create around 6,000 of these instead of a lockdown - was highlighted.

The Prime Minister's comments come as a flood of videos and images have emerged on social media showing massive crowds at hill stations like Manali in Himachal Pradesh.

The posts led to experts and medical professionals ringing the alarm bells and slamming tourists' behaviour as "reckless", and the Health Ministry issued a strong appeal to the public to wear face masks and follow social distancing at all times.

"We want to request the public to follow Covid-appropriate behaviour under all circumstances. You are not just exposing yourselves, but also near and dear ones and it can result in us losing the battle against Covid," Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said.

Over the past few weeks a steady increase in the virus' 'R' factor has worried scientists and experts.

An 'R' value of 1 means one person will, on average, infect one other person.

In a pandemic the 'R' target is less than 1.0, which ensures the virus will eventually stop spreading because it can't infect enough people to sustain the outbreak.

As of this morning the national 'R' factor is 0.95 - up from 0.87 two weeks ago and 0.74 a month ago.

Also this morning India reported 31,443 new cases in the past 24 hours and recorded over 2,000 deaths in the same period, although over 1,400 of these were updated tallies from Madhya Pradesh.