New Delhi accused of ‘hate-mongering’ over virus

A health worker wearing a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) suit checks the body temperature of a resident (C) during a COVID-19 coronavirus screening in Mumbai on August 12, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 13 August 2020

New Delhi accused of ‘hate-mongering’ over virus

  • Despite a prominent temple in India becoming a disease hotspot, there has been no public uproar, as was the case when the Tablighi Jamaat was accused of spreading the disease earlier this year

NEW DELHI: Muslim groups and political analysts have accused the Indian government of double standards after a Hindu temple in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh said over 700 of its members had tested positive for coronavirus.

The accusation follows claims that the Tablighi Jamaat (TJ), a Muslim missionary group, were “super spreaders” after a New Delhi gathering in March.

“Our political class has accepted the hegemony of Hindu majoritarianism uncritically, and that has been the guiding principle in dealing with this health crisis. Taking an anti-Muslim stance characterizes the new normal,” said Hilal Ahmad of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, a New Delhi-based think tank.

The Lord Venkateswara Temple in Tirupati said on Sunday that three people had died from the disease, including a head priest.

“Of the 743 infected, about 402 people have recovered, while
338 people are undergoing treatment in care facilities,” said Anil Kumar Singhal, the temple’s executive officer.

The temple reopened after months of lockdown on June 11 following “requests from devotees,” he added, while entry was monitored through “strict measures.”

However, despite the prominent temple becoming a disease hotspot, there has been no public uproar, as was the case when the TJ was accused of spreading the disease earlier this year.

At the time, the government had evacuated over 2,300 people and placed 1,800 in quarantine. Media reports said more than 25,000 people who had come in contact with the missionary group had been quarantined across India.

The government alleges that the TJ hosted gatherings of thousands of people from across India and abroad despite the coronavirus threat.

However, some believe that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is being “divisive” in its approach.

“Coronavirus in India is being used by hate-mongers to divide people in the name of religion,” said Shahid Ali, a TJ lawyer.

He added that when coronavirus cases were detected among the TJ group, both the media and a section of the ruling class “began propagating hate against Muslims.”

“As a result, common people started sidelining and threatening Muslims. Now, when there are so many coronavirus cases in Hindu places of worship, the media is silent. Coronavirus does not have a religion, but India gave coronavirus a religion,” he said.

However, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said the comparison is misplaced and maintained its stance that the TJ was the “perpetrator” of the virus, while the Hindus in Tirupati are “victims.”

“When the TJ incident happened, there were very few coronavirus cases. The TJ demonstrated they were deviants violating lockdown. They intentionally kept everything under wraps,” said BJP spokesperson Sudesh Verma.

“We should stop politicizing the health issue,” he added.

“Coronavirus cases in India have reached 2 million, and those in temples or other places of worship are victims, not perpetrators. We should stop politicizing issues of health. These decisions, like any other decisions of government, are not taken on communal lines.”

However, some have disagreed and accused the authorities of being “anti-science” and stigmatizing Muslims.

“The government is anti-science and should have learned a lesson from the TJ incident and stopped religious gatherings. But now we know that the government and media were working with a particular agenda – they just wanted to victimize Muslims,” said Harjit Singh Bhatti, president of the New Delhi-based Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum.

Bhatti raised the issue of a recent religious event in the city of Ayodhya, where the Indian prime minister launched the construction on a Hindu temple, in “a total disregard for anti-virus measures and protocols.”

He added: “If he does not follow norms, then how can he dare question others? Modi is a prisoner of his own politics.”


UK science advisers warn public on COVID-19 rates

Updated 21 September 2020

UK science advisers warn public on COVID-19 rates

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson huddled with ministers over the weekend to discuss how the government will respond to the recent rise in cases
  • The UK reported a seven-day average of 21 deaths a day last week

LONDON: Britain’s top medical adviser says the country has, in a “very bad sense,” turned a corner on COVID-19 infection rates, with figures suggesting there will be an exponential growth in the disease unless action is taken.
Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty told the public on Monday that rates are going in the “wrong direction” amid expectations the government is preparing to announce new measures to control the pandemic.
“We have in a very bad sense, literally turned a corner,” after weeks of increasing infection rates.
Whitty said that if nothing is done, new infections will rise to 49,000 a day by mid-October. Hospitalizations are also doubling in seven to eight days — leading to more deaths.
There was also no indication that the virus had lessened in severity, he said. “We see no evidence that this is true.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson huddled with ministers over the weekend to discuss how the government will respond to the recent rise in cases, which has pushed infection rates to levels last seen in May. Later this week the government is expected to announce a slate of short-term restrictions that will act as a “circuit breaker” to slow the spread of the disease.
The government is hoping to keep that number from climbing back to the peak levels of early April, when more than 5,000 cases a day were being reported.
While death rates have remained relatively low so far, public health officials warn that deaths are likely to rise in coming weeks.
The UK reported a seven-day average of 21 deaths a day last week, compared with a peak of 942 on April 10.
The government last week imposed tighter restrictions on communities in northeastern England, where the infection rate first began to rise. Bars and restaurants in those areas must now close between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. and people are prohibited from socializing with individuals from other households.
The rise in infection rates comes as lawmakers across the political spectrum criticize the government’s testing program. While government ministers tout the record numbers of tests being performed, there are widespread reports of people having to travel hundreds of miles for tests and tests being voided because it is taking labs too long to process them.
An effective testing program is seen as essential to controlling the pandemic because it allows the government to track infections and inform people when they should self-isolate.