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India COVID-19 cases near 3 million as Mumbai festival approaches

FILE PHOTO: A healthcare worker wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) takes a swab from a migrant worker, who returned to Delhi from his native state, for a rapid antigen test at a bus terminal, amidst the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in New Delhi, India, August 17, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo

MUMBAI (Reuters) - A jump in coronavirus infections on Friday pushed India closer to the 3 million mark, piling pressure on authorities to prevent huge gatherings this weekend as Mumbai celebrates the Hindu elephant-headed god Ganesh.

For most of western India, especially the country’s financial capital, Ganesh Chaturthi marks the beginning of an 11-day festival usually marked by big public celebrations.

Social media was flooded with pictures of shoppers crowding markets to buy flowers and sweets, but it is expected to be a quieter Ganesh festival this year.

“You can see everyone’s shops are full of idols. No one is coming out to buy anything,” Ramdas Ghodekar, who sells Ganesh idols in central Mumbai, told Reuters.

India reported 68,898 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours - the third straight daily increase above 60,000 - taking the total to 2.91 million, the third worst in the world after the United States and Brazil

Deaths increased by 983 to 54,849.

Cases have plateaued in Mumbai, which now averages 1,000 a day and has recorded more than 120,000 in total, but strict government regulations have meant that the festival season, which begins this month, has been lacklustre.

“People are buying cheaper idols and cutting down their budgets because there have been pay cuts and job losses. Last year, I sold all the idols in my shop - this year I will sell half of that,” idol-maker Nandkumar Patil said.

India imposed a strict lockdown in March, at the beginning of the outbreak, and in several cities like Mumbai, public transport, malls and theatres remain shut.

Reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Giles Elgood

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