Uncertainty as Spain puts coronavirus death toll ‘on hold’

A healthcare worker takes part in a protest calling for a reinforced healthcare system outside the Gregorio Maranon hospital in Madrid on June 8, 2020. (AFP)
Updated 13 June 2020

Uncertainty as Spain puts coronavirus death toll ‘on hold’

  • On May 25, Spanish health ministry changed its method of collecting data on confirmed cases and fatalities
  • Since June 7, the number of dead has stuck at 27,136

MADRID: For days now, Spain’s daily coronavirus death toll has been on hold, generating widespread uncertainty about the real state of the epidemic that has claimed more than 27,000 lives.
The health ministry’s emergencies coordinator Fernando Simon, who for months has given a daily briefing on the pandemic’s evolution, acknowledged the “astonishment” and “confusion” generated by the figures.
On May 25, the ministry changed its method of collecting data on confirmed cases and fatalities, initially giving a daily death toll of between 50 and 100.
But the figure then fell to fewer than five per day and on some days there were no deaths at all.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez even told parliament there had been “no deaths” for several days, prompting a backlash from the right and the far-right who have since accused him of hiding the real number of fatalities.
“(The) biggest danger is communicating this idea that the epidemic is over because the virus is still present in our country although at much lower levels,” warned Salvador Macip, an expert in health sciences at Catalonia’s Open University.
Simon has said the new system was set up to facilitate the rapid detection and isolation of any new outbreak and that the regions must provide a detailed breakdown of cases, rather than lumping all figures together.
But last week he acknowledged that the overall number of deaths had remained “frozen” as a result of discrepancies in the figures, which he put down to delays in submitting data in certain regional areas.
Since June 7, the number of dead has stuck at 27,136 while the regional authorities “review the information on deaths ... (until) they can give a precise death date which will give a clearer sequence,” Simon said.
But some regions have hit back, insisting they have submitted all the required data yet saying it wasn’t reflected in the overall balance.
Such was the case with Andalusia whose health minister Jesus Aguirre recently lashed out at the central government’s “total lack of respect for the dead” in publishing lower figures than those submitted by the southern region itself.
One problem with the new system is that it puts “excessive emphasis on reporting the previous day’s figures” because if the data arrive after the deadline, they’re not added to the daily total, explained Kiko Llaneras, a data analyst with El Pais newspaper.
It has turned into “a source of huge disinformation” and in terms of communication it has “tainted the entire debate,” he said.
The situation became even more chaotic this week after the National Statistics Institute (INE) and the Carlos III Health Institute published figures showing that Spain’s death toll has been between 43,000 and 44,000 higher than it has been on average in recent years.
And this “excess mortality” has further inflamed the opposition who point to it as proof the government is playing down the death toll.
But the government has rejected such claims, saying such figures include those who died of other causes or had COVID symptoms and never had a PCR test.
Such testing kits, which were very scarce at the start of the outbreak, have since become essential for confirming a new case and adding it to the overall figures.
“It is normal that the death toll does not coincide with the excess mortality figures,” explained Ildefonso Hernández, spokesman for the Spanish Society of Public Health, saying similar situations occur during flu season and heatwaves.
“Is the government hiding deaths under the carpet? No, it’s not. Is the government communicating clearly? No, it’s not doing that either,” he complained.
“One of the fundamental issues is that the management of information and communicating figures in the epidemic has not been clear enough,” agreed Llaneras.


Indian court accused of ‘betrayal’ over mosque verdict

Updated 01 October 2020

Indian court accused of ‘betrayal’ over mosque verdict

  • Senior BJP officials acquitted of conspiracy to destroy historic Muslim place of worship

NEW DELHI: A special court in the northern Indian city of Lucknow on Wednesday acquitted all 32 politicians and senior leaders from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of conspiring to demolish the 16th-century Babri Mosque in 1992, ruling that the move was not “preplanned.”

Muslims described the judgment as “yet another betrayal by the judiciary.”

The BJP under the leadership of then-party president Lal Krishna Advani led a political campaign in the late 1980s and early 1990s to build a temple on the site of the disputed 16th-century mosque in the eastern city of Ayodhya, claiming that it was built by the first Mughal ruler Babar. 

On Dec. 6, 1992, in response to a call by BJP leaders, hundreds of Hindu extremists gathered at the disputed site and demolished the mosque, resulting in religious riots across the country that claimed more than 2,000 lives.

Most of the BJP leaders and its affiliates were blamed for razing the Babri Mosque.

However, on Wednesday, Surendra Kumar Yadav, the judge at the special court, said that the demolition of the 500-year-old mosque was not pre-planned.

“They have been acquitted for lack of evidence,” defense lawyer K.K. Mishra said after the verdict.

Muslims reacted to the verdict with disappointment.

“The judgment pronounced by the special CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) court is wrong. We will appeal in the high court,” Zafaryab Jilani, general secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said.

The BJP was elated with the court’s decision.

“It is a moment of happiness for all of us; we chanted ‘Jai Shri Ram’ (Hail Ram) after the court’s verdict. The judgment vindicates my personal and BJP’s belief and commitment toward the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement. Along with millions of my countrymen, I now look forward to the completion of the beautiful Shri Ram Mandir (temple) at Ayodhya,” 92-year-old Advani, one of the accused in the case, said.

Another BJP leader and former party president, Murli Manohar Joshi, who was also among the accused, called the judgment “historic.”

“This proves that no conspiracy was hatched for the incident in Ayodhya. Our program and rallies were not part of any conspiracy,” Joshi, 86, said.

The verdict comes 10 months after the Supreme Court’s controversial judgment giving the disputed land to a Hindu trust and awarding five acres of land to Muslim petitioners to build a structure of their choice at another location in the city.

“It’s a betrayal by the court,” Ayodhya-based Hajji Mahboob, one of the original Muslim petitioners, told Arab News.

“So many BJP leaders have claimed openly that they were involved in demolishing the Babri Mosque. If the court gives this kind of one-sided verdict, I can only say that it is compromised,” he said.

“We know that there cannot be any justice for Muslims in this country because all the decisions given by the courts are wrong,” he added.

Reacting to the verdict, the main opposition Congress party said it was “counter to the Supreme Court judgment.” 

The apex court held that the demolition of the Babri mosque was clearly illegal and an “egregious violation of the rule of law.” 

“But the Special Court exonerated all the accused. It is clear that the decision of the Special Court runs counter to the decision of the Supreme Court,” Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said.

The demolition of the mosque was “a deep-rooted political conspiracy to destroy the country’s communal amity and brotherhood, and to usurp power at any cost,” he added.

According to Hilal Ahamd, of New Delhi-based think tank Center for the Study of Developing Societies, there is a growing belief among Muslims that India is a Hindu country and “they have to adjust themselves accordingly.”

Meanwhile, former chairman of the minority commission Zafar ul Islam Khan said the verdict will encourage the BJP to take the law into its own hands in the belief that the police and judiciary will protect them.

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a New Delhi political analyst who has written several books on the Hindu right-wing politics, said: “The demolition of the mosque was a criminal offense and the failure to establish guilt after 28 years is unfortunate.”

He described the verdict as “a betrayal for Muslims and risky for the security of the country if its largest minority keeps getting marginalized like this.”