Coming festive holidays could mean big trouble in fighting coronavirus in India

India’s coronavirus infections stood at 7.37 million on Friday, having risen by 63,371 in the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed.

Deaths from COVID-19 infections rose by 895 to 112,161, the ministry said.

India crossed the 7-million mark on Sunday, adding a million cases in just 13 days. It has the world’s second-highest tally after the United States, where the figures have surpassed 8 million.

The virus could further surge in India in the coming weeks as it heads into its main holiday season with an economy freed of virus restrictions.

The cash-short state governments are reluctant to stop people from venturing out during Durga Puja, next week, and Diwali in mid-November.

The holidays are celebrated with family gatherings, bumper buying and the giving of gifts, from sweets and snacks to clothes and cars, generating vital income for many people.

“There is no need to congregate in large numbers to prove your faith or your religion,” Union health minister Harsh Vardhan said in a broadcast last week. “If we do this we may be heading for big trouble.”

Though India’s infection rate has dipped in recent weeks, doctors fear fatalities could spike as bad winter air pollution may worsen the breathing difficulties that many Covid-19 patients suffer.

If current trends hold, India will overtake the infection tally of the United States early next month.