The Red Fort lawns that remain filled to the brim on Independence Day, saw many vacant seats this year with the attendees wearing masks and maintaining social distancing, displaying an image of the "new normal" in times of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Independence Day event at the historic Red Fort, where prime minister unfurls the tricolour and delivers a speech to the nation, was scaled down this year. Around 4,000 invites, a quarter of the usual, were issued to officers, diplomats, local leaders and others.
Still, a number of seats across all enclosures remained empty. A security official said they expected that a few seats would remain empty considering the COVID-19 situation. "The number of invitees was one-fourth the normal. Still, lesser number of people turned up. Adequate arrangements were made to ensure physical distancing and masks, sanitisers and gloves provided to all the attendees," he said.
A kit containing a mask, a small bottle of hand sanitiser and a pair of gloves were kept on all chairs which were positioned at a distance of 6 feet to maintain the prescribed distance. A hand towel was kept on the back rest of the chairs along with the programme pamphlet. School children, who would attend the event dressed in the colours of the national flag, were missing this time. Instead, 500 NCC cadets were invited to the event.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who would often venture among the school children and shake hands with them at the end of the event, said, "Today, our children are not here with us. The pandemic has halted all of us." Colourful carpets in enclosure and aisles contrast seating and walking areas, and posters bearing social distancing norms messages like 'keep six ft distance', 'wear a mask', dot the venue.
Senior-most cabinet ministers were seated on the upper dais. Guests, security staff, VIPs, all were sporting masks as prescribed under the safety norms. Some guests were even seen sporting designer masks to add to the uniqueness of the event that embraces the 'new normal' brought in by the coronavirus pandemic.
Delhi has been one of the worst-affected cities in the country as far as the spread of the virus is concerned. The total number of COVID-19 cases in the national capital has crossed 1.5 lakh, while 4,178 people have died due to the viral infection.