War against coronavirus should not acquire a religious colour

Tablighi Jamaat-Optimized

The large religious congregation held in mid-March by Tablighi Jamaat Nizamuddin in Delhi has turned into a large cluster of novel coronavirus. The organisers should have been aware how their congregation in Malaysia in February led to a spike in cases there. But Delhi government is also equally culpable.

Nizamuddin in Delhi has turned into a large cluster of novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) cases after a large religious congregation was held in mid-March by Tablighi Jamaat at the Alami Markaz Banglewali Masjid. So far more than 400 people showing symptoms have been hospitalised in Delhi alone, at least 240 have tested positive and at least 10 have died. The spectre of large-scale community spread by a few hundred attendees from different States cannot be ruled out.

No excuse sufficient

That the three-day event began on a day when the Health Ministry said that it did not consider the novel coronavirus as a health emergency despite 81 cases being reported cannot be an excuse. After all, the World Health Organization had called COVID-19 a Public health Emergency of International Concern on January 30, raised the global threat to high risk, which is the highest even when it announced Public health emergency and called COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11. The organisers should have been much aware how a similar congregation organised by them in Malaysia in end February led to a spike in cases there and how the attendees had carried the virus to other countries.

But the Delhi government is equally culpable as nothing was done to stop such an assembly except issuing an order on March 13 prohibiting the assembly of more than 200 people. What prevented the State government from following the Union government’s March 6 advice to all States to avoid or postpone mass gatherings till COVID-19 was contained?

Not the only large congregation

There have been several such large religious and non-religious gatherings in the country after India reported its first case, beginning with the Namaste Trump rally in Ahmadabad to migrants gathering in a few cities, including Delhi, a few days back. Until the lockdown began, many places of worship were open and political events held.

Each such event could have potentially seeded the virus into the population and should have therefore been cancelled or prevented. But India failed despite being aware how large congregations in other countries had led to an alarming spread of the virus. Large outbreaks in South Korea, Singapore and southern Italy have had its origin in churches and religious gatherings, while three separate large events in Spain on March 8 led to manifold increase in cases.

Focus on tracing contacts

Having failed to prevent the event, the States that already have cases with a link to the Nizamuddin event should use the lockdown period to actively engage in finding everyone who has attended the event, trace their contacts, quarantine, test and treat them without losing time.

Both South Korea and Singapore have demonstrated how meticulous tracing of contacts of the church event, isolation and aggressive testing helped prevent the highly infectious virus from spreading widely in the community. Ideally, the remaining period of the shutdown should be used to expand the testing to at least limited community level to find every suspected case linked to the attendee.

COVID-19 is beyond religion, class

If anger was initially directed against China for the emergence of the novel virus and for covering up the outbreak for nearly a month thus allowing the virus to spread to other countries, it is now directed at Muslims. The last thing that India can afford in the war against the virus is the disease acquiring a religious or class colour. Community leaders have been irresponsible, but those in the government have been lax too.

Published in The Hindu on April 2, 2020


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