Indians are taking warnings about the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic casually and treating them like weather updates, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said on Tuesday.

The government’s statement came in response to crowding at several hill stations, in blatant violation of safety norms amid the Covid health crisis.

“There was a news report where people said they felt jailed for two years,” health ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said at a press briefing. “They said they were not scared of Covid-19 and came to hill stations to enjoy before the third wave hits the country.”

Agarwal said people did not understand the seriousness of the situation. He warned that such inappropriate behaviour will invalidate efforts made so far to fight the pandemic. He added that the timing and intensity of subsequent waves of the pandemic will depend on whether people follow Covid-appropriate behaviour now.

“We have to make a choice,” Agarwal said. “Should I not wear a mask because I feel I cannot breathe? Should I not isolate myself thinking that I will get lonely at home? Should I not take vaccine because of the misconceptions being created about it?”

The health ministry official added that people must assimilate Covid-appropriate behaviour into their lives as the new normal. “In the end, it will be for us to determine the direction in which we want to take our fight against Covid,” he said.

Agarwal said that Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh were now registering a surge in cases. He added that more than 73% of the new cases in July were reported from Kerala, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha.

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NITI Aayog Member (Health) Dr VK Paul also asked people not to lower their guard. He cited Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s message from a meeting on Monday, where he stressed on the need to follow protocol in order to prevent a third wave of the pandemic.

At his meeting with the chief ministers of northeastern states, Modi expressed concern about people not wearing masks and crowding hill stations and markets.

Experts have issued repeated warnings about the imminent third wave of the pandemic but this has not deterred those travelling to hill destinations. Last week, a video from Kempty falls in Mussoorie in Uttarakhand showed tourists standing dangerously close together and not wearing masks. Several other visuals of tourists violating Covid safety norms have emerged online.

On Monday, the Indian Medical Association cautioned the central and state governments that the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic was inevitable and imminent. The doctors’ association said that “tourist bonanza, pilgrimage travel, religious fervour” could wait and the people should follow Covid protocols for at least three more months.

India registered 32,906 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, pushing the infection tally to 3,09,07,282, since the pandemic broke out in January last year. As many as 2,020 deaths pushed India’s toll to 4,10,784. The sudden jump in the toll was because Madhya Pradesh added 1,478 backlog deaths from the second wave of the pandemic till June 30 to its existing record.