Mass gatherings during festivals should clearly be discouraged as India is still grappling with Covid-19 cases, Indian Council of Medical Research Director General Balram Bhargava said on Thursday.

“There are still 39 districts with over 10% [Covid] positivity, so we are still dealing with the problem in a big way,” he said during a press briefing. But he added that if it was absolutely essential for a person to attend a limited gathering, they must be fully vaccinated.

NITI Aayog member (health) VK Paul also urged Indians to celebrate upcoming festivals such as Ganesh Chaturthi in September and Navratri in October with their families instead of participating in large gatherings.

“We are going to have to be careful in view of the festive season and change in weather,” Paul said. “Even as we accelerate vaccination, our precautions must continue and get intensified. Continue wearing masks and practicing physical distancing.”

Paul cautioned Indians about mutations in the virus that causes Covid-19. “We have seen that if the virus mutates, it can shake the whole system. This is a factor which we cannot control.”

He added that people should help create awareness in rural areas about the need for getting vaccinated. “No one should be left behind,” he said.

Health ministry Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said at the press conference that 16% of India’s adult population had been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 so far. As many as 54% Indians had received their first dose.

Bhushan added that in Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh and Dadra And Nagar Haveli, everyone above the age of 18 had received their first dose.

Monitoring mutants

The ICMR chief told reporters that health experts in India were closely monitoring the C.1.2 variant of Covid-19, which has been detected in South Africa, China, New Zealand and some other countries.

“There is no rapid spread or serious disease [attributed to the variant] noticed so far globally,” Bhargava added. “But we need to wait for more evidence.”

No cases of the variant have been reported in India so far. As a precaution, passengers from the three countries as well as Bangladesh, Botswana, Mauritius and Zimbabwe will have to produce a negative RT-PCR report before boarding their flight and take a second test after landing in India.

“Genome sequencing of passengers is a critical element and INSACOG [the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium] is already aware of this variant,” Paul said.

India on Thursday morning recorded 47,092 new coronavirus cases, pushing the tally of infections to 3,28,57,937 since the pandemic broke out out in January last year. The country’s toll rose by 509 to 4,39,529.