R-Day during COVID: Socially distanced contingents, less spectators instead of bustling crowd

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New Delhi, Jul 26 (PTI) Chairs neatly placed apart in a grid in enclosures, no standing spectators allowed, people wearing masks and pocket sanitizers kept handy. The Republic Day celebration at Rajpath this year, while upholding most traditions, was unusual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Known otherwise to witness huge bustling crowds across many age groups, the annual ceremonial event at Rajpath has been scaled down this time in view of the coronavirus pandemic, with spectators' size drastically cut to 25,000 from about 1.25 lakh last year.

While the number of daily incidences has come down in the national capital in the last few weeks, the COVID-19 restrictions are still in place especially at public gatherings.

As per the advisory issued by authorities before the event, persons below 15 years of age were not allowed this time, and the number of enclosures were cut down from 38 to 19.

From members of contingents to spectators, everyone wore masks, the audience maintained the mandated distance while sitting and standing spectators were not allowed.

The marching contingents' route was also curtailed and they stopped at the National Stadium this year instead of following the regular route all the way to the Red Fort.

The size of the marching contingents was also reduced from regular 144 to 96 so that they could maintain social distancing, a senior official said.

Due to the COVID-19 safety norms, gravity-defying stunts by motorcycle-borne men -- a major attraction for the crowd at Republic Day celebrations on the Rajpath -- was also missing this year.

Members of the tableaux contingents from a total of 32 states and UTs, ministries and government departments had undergone multiple COVID-19 tests at a cultural camp at Delhi Cantonment, the last one being on January 22.

COVID-19 safety norms were strictly in place throughout the event.

Huge floor stickers were put up on carpets telling people to 'wear mask' and 'maintain social distancing' and entry was granted after strict contactless frisking.

Last year's Independence Day celebrations too were held in the middle of the pandemic at the historic Red Fort and had typified the 'new normal' in times of COVID-19.

Medical kits, each equipped with a mask, a mini hand sanitizer bottle and a pair of gloves, were kept on all chairs which are neatly separated to maintain the prescribed distance in the front lawns of the Mughal monuments.

Even in the VVIPs enclosures, social distancing norms were in place.

Every year, a large number of school children add youthful energy to the grand event, but due to the coronavirus situation they were not present on the occasion this time.

Delhi recorded 148 fresh COVID-19 cases on Monday, the lowest daily rise in infections in nine months, even as the positivity rate stood at 0.31 per cent.

This was also the fourth instance when the number of daily cases in the city stood below the 200-mark in January.

The infection tally in the city stands at 6.34 lakh and the death toll mounted to 10,813 with five new fatalities, authorities had said on Monday. PTI KND RDM RDM