Coronavirus | Opeds and editorials

Faith can’t override public health

People wearing protective masks walk along Ramlala market in Ayodhya on March 14, 2020.

People wearing protective masks walk along Ramlala market in Ayodhya on March 14, 2020.  

The U.P. govt.’s move to proceed with the Ayodhya ‘mela’ defies WHO guidelines and its own advisory

That mass gatherings, especially in enclosed spaces, provide the perfect conditions for novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) to easily spread became amply clear early on during the COVID-19 outbreak. The number of cases reported from the Diamond Princess cruise ship kept increasing before reaching 712; half-a-dozen jails in China reported over 500 cases. Both in Singapore and South Korea, large clusters of cases have had their origin in churches.

Countries across the world, from China to Italy, have been taking the World Health Organization (WHO)’s advice of quarantining and social distancing seriously to contain the spread of the virus. Taking a cue from these, many sporting events, from Formula 1 racing events to tennis, basketball, football and cricket championships, including the Indian Premier League, have been put off or cancelled.

Coronavirus | Social distancing key to containing COVID-19, say experts

Government advisory

On March 6, when the number of cases crossed 1,00,000 globally and stood at 31 in India, the Union government advised all States to avoid or postpone mass gatherings till the COVID-19 outbreak was contained. It wanted States to take precautions in case mass gatherings were held. Earlier, taking the advice of experts to avoid mass gatherings to cut the transmission chain, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that he was not going to celebrate Holi. Making a similar announcement, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath also appealed to people of his State to “refrain from attending social functions”. Soon after the March 6 advisory, educational institutions, malls, theatres, to name a few, were shut in many States. Mumbai ordered private companies to work with 50% staff capacity.

But, just a couple of weeks later, at a time when even mass gatherings involving a few hundred people are being discouraged, the U.P. government has said that the Ayodhya Ram Navami Mela will be held as planned from March 25 to April 2. The mela, which attracts lakhs of tourists every year, will be of special significance this time as it will be the first such function after the apex court’s Ayodhya verdict. At a time when the virus seems to have gained renewed vigour and is marching across countries, infecting thousands and killing hundreds each day, a congregation of such magnitude could have serious consequences and shift the trajectory of the outbreak in India.

Coronavirus | Interactive map of confirmed coronavirus cases in India

Tradition cannot be allowed to override public health, especially when it cannot be guaranteed that the number of people congregating can be reduced or precautions instituted. More so when the virus in question is highly infectious, while India’s healthcare system is weak and cannot take a frontal assault by the virus if hundreds of people manifest serious symptoms. There have been several recent instances when large gatherings have had disastrous consequences.

On International Women’s Day on March 8, over 1,20,000 people marched through Madrid. The same day, over 60,000 fans gathered at the city’s largest stadiums and 9,000 supporters of Vox party assembled inside a sports centre. Less than a week later, the number of cases shot up from a few hundred to 4,200. Today, with more than 13,700 cases, Spain has the third highest number of cases outside China.

Examples of Malaysia and Iran

In Malaysia, over 16,000 people gathered in late-February in a mosque complex in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur for a four-day meeting. Of the 790+ cases in Malaysia so far, nearly two-thirds are linked to the event. The city of Qom in Iran, where the first case and death were reported, is full of holy sites that people touch and kiss. Qom soon turned into a hotspot and played a role in the virus’s spread to the rest of Iran. While in South Korea, a day after cases soared by 833 in a single day, the church halted masses at more than 1,700 locations across the country.

It is time we learn from the experiences of other countries and act wisely and not allow religious fervour cloud our discretion.

Why you should pay for quality journalism - Click to know more

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 8:42:48 AM |

In This Package
Preparing for exit: On lifting the lockdown
Sanctions and pandemic: On America’s Iran policy
‘A script of action, responsibility and compassion’: Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot writes on Rajasthan’s fight against COVID-19
Taking a long view of the pandemic fight
Ten questions posed by the virus
A different economic approach
Why healthcare workers above 60 should be ‘benched’
Enemy at the gates: On Kerala-Karnataka border row
Reducing farm distress during a pandemic
Why everyone should wear masks
The criticality of community engagement
A niggardliness that is economically unwarranted
The spectre of a post-COVID-19 world
Light and sound: On Narendra Modi’s 9-minute light ceremony
A million and counting: On global coronavirus spread
Safe forests, safe people: On diseases of animal origin
Quarantine and the law
Making the private sector care for public health
Looking east to contain COVID-19
Limits to rugged individualism
Uncritical endorsement: On exodus of migrant workers and the Supreme Court
Beyond the blame game: On the Tablighi Jamaat episode
A long road: On India’s 21-day coronavirus lockdown
The missing notes: On politics and the fight against COVID-19
China’s zero: On China’s lead in containing coronavirus
Unprecedented step: On Wuhan lockdown
The return of the expert
Lessons from Hubei
A pandemic in an unequal India
You are reading
Faith can’t override public health
Devising a people-centric response to COVID-19
Karnataka CM writes on how the State is fighting the pandemic
Tamil Nadu CM writes on how the State is stopping the pandemic in its tracks
The hunt for a cure begins with telling the truth
COVID-19 and a city’s anatomy
Long live the nation-state
The COVID cycle
Coronavirus | The worst of times, the best of times
It’s also a fight against punitive measures
The age of the neoliberal virus
The deep void in global leadership
Thinking national, acting local
Every man is a part of the main
Beyond social distancing to fight COVID-19
Next Story