India considers narrowing lockdown to coronavirus hotspots

The sweeping lockdown of India’s 1.3 billion people to prevent an epidemic of COVID-19 ends on April 14. (AP)
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Updated 08 April 2020

India considers narrowing lockdown to coronavirus hotspots

  • Sweeping lockdown of India’s 1.3 billion people to prevent an epidemic of COVID-19 ends on April 14
  • ‘To manage coronavirus, we are working on a cluster containment strategy’

NEW DELHI: India is considering plans to seal off coronavirus hotspots in Delhi, Mumbai and parts of the south while easing curbs elsewhere as a way out of a three-week lockdown that has caused deep economic distress, officials said on Wednesday.
The sweeping lockdown of India’s 1.3 billion people to prevent an epidemic of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, ends on April 14 and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is due to take a decision this week on whether to extend it.
Scenes of poor migrant workers and their families walking long distances on empty highways to their homes in the countryside have increased the pressure on Modi to re-open parts of Asia’s third largest economy.
More than 80 percent of the positive cases of the coronavirus have been traced to 62 districts — less than 10 percent of India’s landmass — according to government data.
These are concentrated in the western state of Maharashtra, home to financial capital Mumbai, Delhi and the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Kerala.
Many parts of the country have not reported a single case.
Such a skewed geographical spread strengthens the case for a more targeted approach under which the affected area and its neighboring district will be cordoned off, health officials said.
“To manage coronavirus, we are working on a cluster containment strategy,” said Health Ministry joint secretary Lav Agarwal, leading the effort to tackle the outbreak.
He said such measures were already in place in east Delhi, Agra and in the textile town of Bhilwara in western Rajasthan state which has now become a test case for a more targeted fight against the disease.
Under the “Bhilwara model,” which was adopted last month soon after about 30 people tested positive in the first big wave of infections, the town and its surrounding villages were tightly sealed with a virtual curfew in place.
People were not allowed even to step out of their homes to get essential stocks or medicines, instead they were asked to call helpline numbers for delivery of staples at their homes.
“It is a lockdown, within a lockdown,” said district information officer Gouri Kant.
So far, India has had 5,194 people infected with coronavirus of whom 149 have died, government data showed on Wednesday.
The small numbers, in comparison to large countries such as the United States, Italy and China have prompted questions from Modi’s critics about whether India has gone too far in shutting down its economy, throwing millions of those who depend on pay by the day out of work and onto the brink of poverty.
A senior government official, aware of internal discussions on the lockdown, said parts of the country that had not reported a single case of the coronavirus and where people were not in quarantine could lift the curbs.
“There are proposals that are on the table, if there is a partial lifting it will be done on the basis of safety assessment,” the official said.
But it was unlikely that schools, colleges, rail travel and religious gatherings would be allowed anywhere in the country, the official said.
“If the lockdown has to be eased, it should be done in a graded manner in areas that are not hotspots. The hotspots should remain cordoned off,” Dr. S K Sarin, who leads the Delhi government’s panel on COVID-19, said.


Muslims in Italy follow rules while celebrating Eid Al-Fitr

Updated 26 May 2020

Muslims in Italy follow rules while celebrating Eid Al-Fitr

  • Italian media reported that Muslims gathered to perform Eid prayers in compliance with anti-coronavirus measures

ROME: Italy’s Muslims gathered in parks and public squares to celebrate the end of Ramadan, as many of the country’s mosques remained shut because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Islamic places of worship have been going slow on welcoming back congregations, despite an easing of a months-long lockdown, in order to guarantee social distancing and other preventive steps required under an agreement between Muslim communities and the government.

Mosques and prayer rooms will have to respect the same strict rules which have been imposed on Catholic churches. Halls will have to be sanitized before and after every prayer and a maximum of 200 people will be allowed, even in the biggest places of worship. For outdoor prayers a limit of 1,000 people has been set and each worshipper must be spaced at least one meter apart from the next. Those with a temperature above 37.5 degrees cannot enter.

Italian media reported that Muslims gathered to perform Eid prayers in compliance with anti-coronavirus measures.

“Happy Eid Al-Fitr to all Muslims in Italy as they have two reasons to celebrate,” Yassine Lafram, president of the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy (UCOII), said in a message. 

“This is not the only festivity closing the holy month of Ramadan, it matters even more to us all this year in Italy as it finally marks the return of our faithful to the mosque after several months of lockdown due to coronavirus. The Muslim faithful all over Italy now pray to God to accept the fasts, prayers and every good deed carried out during this holy  month and bring peace and blessing to our homes, so that phase two in the fight against COVID-19 in Italy will start in the best way possible.”

Many Muslims celebrated Eid at home with immediate family members. Those who decided to meet and pray together outside their households did it while “strictly respecting” health protocols and social distancing to avoid risk of infection, UCOII said. The organization asked people to display the same “utmost prudence and responsibility” when entering every place of worship from now on.

At Milan’s Al-Wahid Mosque Imam Yahya Sergio Pallavicini set up spacing for 140 new prayer mats. There are different entry and exit points for men and women, along with dedicated courtyards. 

Sanitization is carried out regularly while detergents, disinfecting gel and personal protective equipment are being offered by city authorities. “We pray for the inner and outer health of believers and Italian people,” Pallavicini said at the start of Eid prayers.

Almost 200 people gathered to pray in Rome’s Piazza Vittorio Emanuele. Muslims arranged their prayer mats and moved about in line with social distancing rules. Posters in Italian and Arabic told people that hugging was not allowed. 

“Even if we are in an outside space, nobody has to get too close,” the imam told his flock before prayers commenced. “It is mandatory and for the sake of everyone’s health.” There were children in the congregation too, and everyone wore face masks.

“I am so happy that I am finally meeting my friends for this prayer, but we have to stay apart,” 13-year-old Samir told Arab News. “We will have time to embrace, to play together in the future, when the virus will be gone.” He said he had missed going to his mosque, near Furio Camillo station, during the lockdown. 

“I prayed with my father, of course we were following prayers on YouTube and on Facebook. But it was not the same. Here I really feel part of a group sharing a faith. And it is great to be together again,” he added.

In Piazza Re di Roma, in the southern part of the city center, 250 Muslims gathered to pray. “We just prayed together, and stayed in the square for an hour only,” 31-year-old Latif told Arab News. “The celebration will be with our families later on.”

An outdoor celebration took place in the Sicilian capital Palermo with Mayor Leoluca Orlando also joining in. “We are happy for this celebration which marks another sign of the return to normality of our communities,” he told Arab News. “Being able to pray together is one of the most important needs for a religion as that improves the sense of community. Now we can do it again together: and that’s a great sign not only for the Muslim community but for the entire population of Palermo.”