India coronavirus cases cross 7 million as experts warn of complacency

Some experts say that India’s coronavirus death toll may not be reliable because of poor reporting and health infrastructure and inadequate testing. (AP)
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Updated 11 October 2020

India coronavirus cases cross 7 million as experts warn of complacency

  • India is expected to become the pandemic’s worst-hit country in coming weeks
  • Nationwide, India is testing more than 1 million samples per day, exceeding the WHO’s benchmark

NEW DELHI: India’s confirmed coronavirus toll crossed 7 million on Sunday with a number of new cases dipping in recent weeks, even as health experts warn of mask and distancing fatigue setting in.
The Health Ministry registered another 74,383 infections in the past 24 hours. India is expected to become the pandemic’s worst-hit country in coming weeks, surpassing the US, where more than 7.7 million infections have been reported.
The ministry also reported 918 additional deaths, taking total fatalities to 108,334.
The number of people who have died of COVID-19 has remained relatively low in South and Southeast Asia – from India to Vietnam and Taiwan – compared to European countries and the United States, said Dr. Randeep Guleria, a government health expert.
“We have been able to keep the curve rise slow, but I do agree that we have not been able to get it to move aggressively down. That’s related to our population density, diversity of our country and socioeconomic challenges in our country,” said Guleria, referring to India’s burgeoning population of nearly 1.4 billion.
Some experts say though that India’s death toll may not be reliable because of poor reporting and health infrastructure and inadequate testing.
India aims to provide vaccines to 250 million people by July 2021, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said last week. He said that the government was planning to receive 450 million to 500 million vaccine doses and would ensure “equitable access”.
India saw a steep rise in cases in July and added more than 2 million in August and another 3 million in September. But it is seeing a slower pace of coronavirus spread since mid-September, when the daily infections touched a record high of 97,894.
It’s averaging more than 70,000 cases daily so far this month. India has a high recovery rate of 85 percent with active cases below 1 million, according to the Health Ministry.
Health officials have warned about the potential for the virus to spread during the upcoming religious festival season, which is marked by huge gatherings in temples and shopping districts.
A crucial factor will be people wearing masks and maintaining a safe distance.
Dr. S.P. Kalantri, a hospital director in the village of Sevagram in India’s worst-hit western Maharashtra state, said that people in his village had stopped wearing masks, maintaining distance or washing their hands regularly. He added that the sick were still being brought in to his hospital.
India’s meager health resources are poorly divided across the country. Nearly 600 million Indians live in rural areas, and with the virus hitting India’s vast hinterlands, experts worry that hospitals could be overwhelmed.
“If we are able to have good behavior in terms of physical distancing and masks, maybe by early next year we should be able to come to a new normal. COVID-19 will not finish but it will be under reasonable control with travel and other things becoming much more easier and people relatively safer,” said Guleria.
Retired virologist Dr. T. Jacob John said there was increasing tendency among Indians not to wear masks or maintain distancing.
Social media have compounded the problem by propagating misinformation and fake cures. “And the result of this is that people have gotten fed up and have started making their own conclusions,” John said.
Nationwide, India is testing more than 1 million samples per day, exceeding the World Health Organization’s benchmark of 140 tests per 1 million people. But many of these are antigen tests, which look for virus proteins and are faster but less accurate than RT-PCR, which confirm the coronavirus by its genetic code.


How a new social contract could salvage French secularism

Updated 30 November 2020

How a new social contract could salvage French secularism

  • SciencesPo teacher David Djaiz wants France to promote civic friendship and reaffirm French values to combat terrorism
  • Arab News en Francais/YouGov survey found young people are more distrusting of French institutions than their older counterparts

PARIS: Violence inspired by radical Islam has created a growing sense of insecurity, fear and Islamophobia in France, which has only fueled the conflation of Islam and Islamism in the public’s consciousness, an Arab News/YouGov poll of French people of Arab origin has found.

On Oct. 29, three people were killed in a stabbing attack near the Notre-Dame basilica in the southern French city of Nice. It followed the beheading of a French school teacher near Paris on Oct. 16, who had used caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed in a lesson about freedom of expression.

The attacks have led to a sharpening of rhetoric, both domestically and on the world stage, which has brought France’s core value of secularism under the spotlight and raised the spectre of cultural conflict.

“It is clear that terrorism is also an act of communication. Added to the barbarity of the modus operandi is a desire to accelerate the break up the society in order to start a war of religion by accrediting the thesis that the Republic persecutes its Muslim citizens,” David Djaiz, an essayist and professor at the prestigious Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), told Arab News.

Djaiz believes this is due in part to a mistranslation of French society’s values of secularism. But he is also aware of some deliberate distortions used to serve political ends.

“President Emmanuel Macron spoke of ‘Islamism’ but his words were translated into Arabic using the word ‘Islam,’” Djaiz said, referring to the French president’s remarks in response to the beaheading of teacher Samuel Paty.

As a result, some foreign politicians used these distorted words to sow confusion and to trigger protests and boycotts of French goods, he said.

“Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for example, has used this discourse in a very cynical way to satisfy his own political agenda,” Djaiz said.

The climate this has created in the wake of the Paris and Nice attacks has only served the interests of jihadist terrorism, which seeks to alienate French Muslims from the rest of the society, he added.

The solution may be multi-pronged. Beyond police and judicial operations to break up Islamist networks, Djaiz wants to see France adopt policies to promote civic friendship and the recognition of French values.

“Every child in this country, regardless of his denominational affiliation, must receive a positive education in the values of the republic and the principles that structure it, and first and foremost the principle of secularism,” he said.

This principle of secularism was conceived by the great figures of the Third Republic, among whom were Protestants, Freemasons and non-believers, to allow the peaceful coexistence of all denominational components of French society.

For a long time, this society was dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, whose dogma influenced the state. But in a society that was becoming more pluralized and complex, republicans sought to separate church and state and allow a diversity of opinions and beliefs to express themselves peacefully.

“From this point of view, secularism is therefore a principle that must be particularly welcoming to Muslims, because it allows everyone to freely exercise their worship by being protected from the pressures of the group,” said Djaiz. This allows the individual to freely worship or to abandon their faith without consequence.  

“Secularism is not at all a revolver pointed at Islam as the Anglo-Saxon media alleges. On the contrary, secularism helps to protect all religious convictions,” said Djaiz.   

But is secularism actually working in reality? Djaiz believes the problem is a widespread misunderstanding of what it means. “This principle must be explained to young children and this task must be entrusted essentially to teachers and all front-line officials in this country,” he said.

“This pedagogy and explanation work has not been sufficiently done, allowing secularism to be considered as an aggressiveness towards Islam whereas this is totally false,” he said.

“But if we are still debating secularism today, a principle that should have been validated for several decades, it is because the republic indulged itself in laxity and laissez-faire and that the Muslims did not grasp this fight.”

Reaffirming the value of secularism must be made a priority, says Djaiz. To do this, a positive political project promoting the concept of civic friendship is essential.

“This political project must go beyond our particularisms and cannot be limited to the values of the republic,” he said. “We need a project that propels us and tells a new French story that remains largely to be invented.”

The importance of this “new narrative” is clearly spelled out in the findings of the Arab News en Francais/YouGov survey, which has uncovered a generational gap. A majority of young French people of Arab origin are much less enthusiastic about French institutions than their older counterparts.

According to the poll, younger people appear more keen on returning to the roots and origins of their parents and are less inclined to comply with French regulations.

Djaiz believes Muslim scholars and cultural leaders must play their part in undermining the more extreme interpretations of Islam and promoting openness. The views of French Muslims who condemn the protests and boycotts of French goods must also be promoted.

He is optimistic a new social contract can be established that will mend the worrisome rifts opening up in French society.

“We are now on the cusp of very great changes,” he said. “The challenge we are facing today is to establish a kind of new social contract in which every child of the republic will have a place so that no one is tempted by extremist and murderous ideologies.”