How One Large, Tragic Wedding Turned an Indian Town Into a COVID Hotspot

The groom died just two days after the ceremony in the east state of Bihar​.
July 2, 2020, 5:49am
indian wedding super spreader covid-19
The groom was a software engineer who travelled home in May from the city of Gurugram for his wedding. Photo courtesy of Pexels

This article originally appeared on VICE India

The groom is dead and at least 79 of the 300-odd guests have tested positive for COVID-19. Now, more than two weeks after the wedding in Dehpali village in the East Indian state of Bihar, it's likely this wedding is responsible for the region's largest chain of infection.

While the wedding itself did not violate the government’s rules, the pre-wedding ritual was attended by over 300 guests, many whom had travelled from the adjoining towns of Naubatpur and Bihta.

The groom, who reportedly suffered a fever during the wedding, died two days after. He was a software engineer who had travelled home in the last week of May from his workplace in the North Indian city of Gurugram, and was cremated without being tested.

Chiranjeev Pandey, Block Development Officer of Paliganj, told VICE News that 79 guests have since tested positive for the virus.

The Indian Express reported that 113 attendees had become sick, while stating that a total of 360 people had gone to the pre-wedding event. Someone then reportedly tipped off the district authorities, and all attendees were tested on June 19.

There are no more deaths at the time of writing. “In fact, 20 people have recovered and gone home since the day they tested positive,” said Pandey.

The positive cases spiked between June 24 and 26 when a special camp was set up in order to the wedding's guests. Officials also sealed off parts of the neighbouring areas.

At the start of June, back when India's rate of infection was still relatively low and the government was prioritising getting people back to work, they introduced a program called "Unlock 1.0" which allowed for certain freedoms such as small parties and wedding ceremonies, as long as they were capped at 50 people. So while this wedding observed that rule, its pre-event party did not.

“The guidelines were observed during the wedding itself, but the tilak ceremony (in which the groom is blessed), which was held on a different day, had more people,” Pandey said.

The state of Bihar currently has 10,043 confirmed COVID-19 cases at time of writing, but it's also believed the state has one of the lowest testing rates per million people in the country.

In some urban pockets, the pandemic has forced "big fat Indian weddings" to become small, intimate, and often even digital. But in many parts of the country, weddings continue to be a lavish affair. Wedding season across most of India begins in November.

Last month, a man in the northern state of Rajasthan was fined INR 626,600 (US$ 8,295.53) for inviting more than 50 people to his son’s wedding. In the north Indian city of Lucknow, a couple tested positive for COVID-19 within 10 days of their marriage ceremony. In Maharashtra’s Palghar district, a case was brought against a man who failed to wait for his COVID-19 result before attending his wedding ceremony, then later tested positive. The police in the north Indian city of Amethi stopped a wedding procession after the groom’s father tested positive.

Across the world, too, there have been cases of cultural and traditional practices becoming hotspots thanks to “super spreaders”—who are defined as unusually contagious individuals who spread coronavirus to at least two - three others. In Uruguay, half the country’s coronavirus cases in March were traced back to 57-year-old fashion designer who had returned from Spain with a fever and attended a wedding. In the United States, at least 490 confirmed COVID-19 cases were suspected to be linked to a funeral in Georgia state.

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