Qatar World Cup faces fresh scrutiny over virus ‘cover-up’

Qatar World Cup faces fresh scrutiny over virus ‘cover-up’
People queue for services in Doha in May as the country was hit by high COVID-19 rates. (AFP/File)
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Updated 04 October 2020

Qatar World Cup faces fresh scrutiny over virus ‘cover-up’

Qatar World Cup faces fresh scrutiny over virus ‘cover-up’
  • Report: Doha has been ‘misreporting COVID-19 deaths, misleading global health care community’
  • Qatar suffered world’s highest coronavirus infection rate per head of population

LONDON: A report alleging that Qatar is covering up the true scale of its battle with coronavirus has blown open the debate surrounding the Gulf country’s hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Demands to move the tournament from Qatar have been reignited following the release of the 10-page document, which was authored by London-based management consultancy Cornerstone Global Associates.

“By the middle of August 2020, Qatar suffered the world’s highest coronavirus infection rate per head of population,” the report said.

“An internal memo conducted by a leading construction company in Qatar working on FIFA projects raised concerns that many of its laborers who were infected had died, but were not reported as COVID-19 deaths,” it added.

“The concerns are in line with questions about the clear discrepancy between the number of infections and the mortality rate.

“The internal memo referred to the repatriation of the bodies of the deceased to their native Nepal and India. This practice goes against the recommendation by health authorities around the world. It also suggests that the Qatari authorities have been misreporting COVID-19 deaths, thereby misleading the global health care community.”

Cornerstone said: “Qatar claims only 201 deaths from COVID-19, suggesting a mortality rate of 0.17 percent.” The firm’s health experts said such a rate “seems grossly underestimated.”

Cornerstone, which has provided consultancy services to the World Health Organization and the UK’s National Health Service, has monitored the development of the Qatar-hosted World Cup since it was awarded to the country in 2010.

The report will add to Qatar’s woes over its hosting of the tournament in two years’ time. Doha previously faced allegations that it had bribed FIFA officials to secure the event.

In April 2020, the US Department of Justice issued an indictment alleging that three South American members of FIFA’s 2010 executive committee accepted bribes to vote for Qatar to host the event.

Qatar’s exploitation of foreign workers is also featured in the new report. The country recently built new hospitals, but laborers from the Indian subcontinent are forbidden from using their facilities despite the threat of coronavirus.

A 2019 Amnesty International report also exposed the inhumane conditions that thousands of workers face in the country.

“Many migrant workers face low pay, harsh working conditions and restrictions on their movement,” Amnesty said.

“Qatar has promised to improve workers’ access to justice, but this promise has not yet been matched by reality. Until this is fixed, hundreds of workers will continue to leave Qatar penniless and without justice.”