Health

Refrain from religious profiling of COVID-19 cases: WHO in context of Tabligh

Govt of Indian gives statewise distribution of Islamic sect cases; That isn't helpful, says World Health Org   

 
By DTE Staff
Published: Tuesday 07 April 2020
WHO’s Emergency Programme Director Mike Ryan. Photo: WHO's Twitter handle

Countries should not profile novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in terms of religion or any other criteria, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended in a press conference on April 6, 2020. A congregation of Islamic sect Tablighi Jamaat in New Delhi has been widely panned after several attendees were tested positive of the virus SARS-CoV-2.

The Government of India too weighed in: Union health ministry joint secretary Lav Agarwal, who has been briefing the media regularly, on April 5 sought to make a case that the outbreak would have spread slower but for the congregation. 

“The doubling rate (of COVID-19 infection) in India is 4.1 days. Had the congregation at Nizamuddin (of an Islamic sect called the Tablighi Jamaat) not happened and additional cases not come, this would have been about 7.14 days,” Agarwal said.

According to WHO Emergency Programme Director Mike Ryan: “This does not help.” Having COVID-19 is not anybody’s fault. Every case is a victim. It is very important that we do not profile the cases on the basis of racial, religious and ethnic lines,” Ryan said on April 6 to a India-specific question.

Since April 1, officials of the health and home ministries have been naming the sect's markaz (congregation) in its statements. 

Agarwal gave a state-wise break-up of cases due to the markaz (congregation) on April 2 — not in response to any question. Several questions from the media, however, have routinely gone unanswered since the outbreak.

On April 4, Agarwal said 30 per cent COVID-19 cases in India were due to the Jamaat. On April 3, he said 17 states had cases due to the congregation.

This was a departure from the ministry’s earlier position: During the last week of March, Agarwal was requested for the number of soldiers and paramilitary jawans who tested positive. He replied that all cases were equal in the eyes of the government and it did not believe in any profiling. The government has also not done shared the number of healthcare workers affected.

Agarwal refused to give any number in reply to such a question on March 31, and just said the information he had suggested not all, whatsoever be the number, were affected during giving services to patients.

Journalists have repeatedly asked about the availability of personnel protective equipment, ventilators, masks and other essentials, only to be told the number changes constantly. 

But the ministry regularly draws the Jamaat into the discussion as do other home ministry representatives, telling how many foreign attendees have been blacklisted or have faced other action.

Besides a flurry of fake news being circulated in context of quarantined Tablighis, there have also been reports of at least two incidents about how naming and shaming has led to tragic consequences. 

A Muslim youth reportedly committed suicide in Himachal Pradesh’s Una district on April 5, allegedly after facing taunts over coming in contact with two people who had attended the Jamaat Markaz.  Though the youth himself tested negative for the infection, he continued to face harassment from the locals. 

In another incident on Sunday, a youth was shot dead in Uttar Pradesh’s Prayagraj district for allegedly criticising the congregation. A brief argument turned into a full-blown altercation. 

Ryan also said attacks on healthcare workers (HCWs) anywhere were disgraceful and every step should be taken to protect them. This remark came in context of an incident in Indore where HCWs were allegedly attacked during a routine surveillance at a Muslim-dominated area.

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