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Was crowd management in sports also responsible for India's second COVID wave?

As India reels under a severe COVID situation, it's time to introspect did we let our guards down too early while entertaining ourselves with sports?

Crowd cheers during second T20 International India vs England match at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad (Source: Reuters)

Crowd cheers during second T20 International India vs England match at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad (Source: Reuters)


The Bridge Desk

Updated: 1 May 2021 4:06 AM GMT

For more than a week, India has been battling a steep surge of the second wave of Covid-19 outbreak. The social media platforms are overwhelmed by SOS messages from all over the country, whereas the unpreparedness of the healthcare system is exposed to the naked eyes.

Medical facilities share the dwindling availability of oxygen, whereas doctors watch helplessly as patients die because of a lack of hospital beds. The entire world has shown its concern for the horrifying situation in India as it continues to break everyday records of the highest newly-detected COVID cases in the globe. India on Monday recorded more than 300,000 daily Covid-19 cases for the fifth day in a row, reaching a new record peak. Ten states—Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Delhi, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh—account for 74.5% of the total Covid-19 recoveries in India. Daily infections, recorded in the past 24 hours, rose to 352,991, with overcrowded hospitals in Delhi.

Crisis unfolds in India with second wave of COVID (Source: BBC)

As the new catastrophe unfolds, the reason could be cited as letting down our guard assuming the pandemic was over. As cases declined from September 2020 to mid-February 2021, the system in India, ignored warnings of a second wave, despite the fact that new variants were identified as far back as in January. In March, a few weeks before the new surge, Indian health minister and physician Harsh Vardhan asserted that India was in the "endgame" of the COVID-19 pandemic, justifying his government's decision to export medical resources to other countries. India had increased its oxygen exports to other countries by a whopping 734 percent in January 2021. It also exported around 193 million doses of vaccines. But the picture changed drastically when India began recording a dramatic increase in new cases from April 15 onward, with more than 200,000 cases daily; now hospitals are running out of oxygen.

Audience at the India vs England T20I in Ahmedabad

By letting our guards down, sports also played out without precautions in place. The largest crowd since the COVID-19 outbreak gathered for the T20 International between India and England at the Narendra Modi Stadium during the second week of March. As many as 57,000 people, including volunteers and police, attended the clash, which England won convincingly. Soon after the match, Gujarat, which houses the stadium, recorded 890 cases of COVID-19 in the highest count of 2021. Following the T20 matches with crowd presence, Gujarat Cricket Association (GCA) decided to organise remaining T20 International Matches in Ahmedabad behind closed doors without audiences.

The inaugural day of the 47th Junior National Kabaddi Championship in Telangana's Suryapet witnessed horrific scenes as one of the stands collapsed, leaving scores injured, during the end of March. According to reports, the incident took place during the opening ceremony of the event. Videos of the accident have since surfaced online, prompting angry reactions from social media users. More than 100 were injured following the collapse of the crowded gallery at a stadium in Suryapet. At least 20 were seriously injured when the wooden stand collapsed prior to the start of a youth kabaddi championship on Monday evening.

Video footage shows the moment the stand, where around 400 spectators were seated, came down ahead of the opening match of the 47th national junior championship. About 5,000 people had packed into the stadium to watch the opening ceremony of the tournament in which 59 teams from across India are participating. Nearly 1,643 COVID-19 cases were added to Telangana's tally in just a week's time, raising alarm bells in the state.

Apart from these comparatively big-ticket events, many small spaces across the country decided to host sports competitions amid closed doors of affluent corners. In a report published by the Mint Lounge, it was mentioned that in mid-March, The Calcutta Swimming Club hosted an inter-club darts tournament in Kolkata. The contestants and audience did not exercise much caution. And Just days after the tournament, some of the participants tested positive for covid-19. Within a week of the tournament, there came a flurry of covid-positive results. As per the report, 54 participants had tested positive for covid-19.

As the IPL is being played out, leading Indian off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and some Australian players have withdrawn from the league amid the escalating Covid-19 crisis. While the BCCI insisted that the glitzy league will go on. It will be interesting to watch, how sports navigate in India in the current grim situation of this pandemic.

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