With approximately 486,451 deaths due to COVID, India has by far been hit the hardest by the pandemic. There isn’t a solitary reason why India has been so greatly impacted by COVID. It is a combination of overcrowding, underfunding, understaffing, miscommunication, political unrest, environmental hazards, and inaccessibility to medical supplies. Eventually, with help from world aid, India’s COVID cases seemed to be decreasing. One tool that proved to be very beneficial in reaching this milestone was the introduction of drones to help facilitate COVID procedures.
India has long had strict rules governing the use of drones, but dire situations called for the revision of these regulations. Following drone practices being used elsewhere in the world, India began using drones to help monitor crowds. New safety regulations allowed police to pilot drones into populated areas to broadcast social distancing reminders. If a drone operator noticed an individual not adhering to COVID protocols, they could use the speaker on the drone to deliver a warning. India’s officials also began using drones to deliver PPEs, medications, and vaccines to people in need, greatly curbing the spread of COVID. Soon, like in much of the world, India appeared to be taking a turn for the better.
With a decrease in COVID cases, many devout Indians felt safe to resume some of their beloved religious festivals. While much of these festivals are held outside where people felt safe, they were still putting themselves in close enough proximity to one another to create an upsurge in COVID cases. It wasn’t only religious festivals, but events like cricket matches and other outdoor maskless gatherings that have led to India once again facing a COVID crisis. “We let our guard down. It was complacency,” said D. Shahid Jameel of Ashoka University and a leading virologist in India. “These were all possible super-spreader events.”
During the April observation on the Hindu festival, Kumbh Mela, authorities estimated that nearly 650,000 pilgrims covered in ceremonial ash flocked to the Ganges River. The maskless crowds bathed in the waters, unaware that they were contributing to a super-spreader event. Officials feared that canceling the festival, as well as future ones, would lead to religious outrage and protest. So, in anticipation of yet another super-spreader religious festival, authorities have once again turned to drones.
For the January 14, 2022 celebration of Makar Sankranti, Bankim Hazra, an official from the Bay of Bengal, explained that they used drones to preemptively minimize overcrowding at the confluence of the Ganges. “Holy water from the river Ganges was sprayed from drones on pilgrims to prevent crowding,” Bankim said. And though there were fewer pilgrims than expected, and many were satisfied by the use of the drones, there were still more that defied social distancing guidelines. “They believe that God will save them,” explained a local police officer, “and bathing at the confluence will cleanse all their sins and even the virus if they are infected.” Officials will continue to try their best at protecting people from the spread of COVID. With drones at the ready, they may just have the tools to help get the job done.