NEW DELHI, Jan 15 — India’s election commission extended its ban on political rallies and roadshows in five states today due to rising Covid-19 cases in the country.

The ban, which runs to January 22, excludes indoor political party events of less than 300 people, or at 50 per cent of a venue’s capacity, the watchdog said in a statement.

India reported 268,833 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, taking its total tally to 36.84 million, according to data from the federal health ministry. Deaths from Covid-19 rose by 402 to 485,752.

Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state and a key battleground for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, will hold elections starting next month. The poll in the northern state, which is currently ruled by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, is seen a barometer for national elections due in 2024.

The northern states of Punjab and Uttarakhand, tourist hotspot Goa and the north-eastern state of Manipur will also hold elections in coming months.

Modi’s government faced criticism last year for its handling of the pandemic during a second wave that overran healthcare systems across the country. — Reuters