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As Muslim cases surge, Maharashtra ropes in Mosques and Imams to issue Coronavirus awareness messages in Urdu: Report

Lack of strict airport screening of travellers from Gulf nations, delay in shutting down Friday prayers led to a surge in coronavirus cases, say experts.

The rising cases of Coronavirus in the state of Maharashtra, especially among the Muslim communities, has prompted the state epidemiology department to issue Coronavirus awareness messages in Urdu in select hotspots.

The government has also decided to rope in Islamic clerics and local religious leaders for outreach towards Muslims to contain the spread of Chinese pandemic, reports Indian Express

According to the reports, at least 239 deaths out of the total 548 deaths recorded in Maharashtra are from the Muslim community, making a whopping 44 per cent of the total deaths in the state, which is almost thrice their share of the population in the state. The numbers are quite alarming as Muslims are reportedly less than 12 per cent in the state’s population.

Since the first death reported on March 17, 89 Muslims died of the 187 deaths reported till April 15 in the state. Between April 15 to May 3, of the 361 additional deaths, 150 were from the community.

Incidentally, only one death of a Filipino national is linked to Tablighi Jamaat mid-March event in New Delhi. 69 coronavirus positive cases in Maharashtra were traced to the Tablighi Jamaat.

Maharashtra acted late in enforcing ban on religious congregations: Experts

The state officials and experts have pointed out several reasons behind the surge in coronavirus cases in the Muslim community. The authorities pointed out that curbs on travellers from the Gulf came only as late as mid-March leading to spread of the virus.

In addition to that, the state authorities did not impose a ban on the religious aggregation as Friday prayers in many mosques continued until March 20.

The Indian Express report also states that a significant share of the community lives in neighbourhoods where social distancing is difficult, the authorities noted. The high population density in Muslim-dominated areas is also among the reasons for the rising number of coronavirus cases among Muslims in the state.

“A lot of people working (in the Gulf) returned home and were missed during airport screening. That was a game-changer. We noticed that several of them, although asymptomatic, spread infection in the community,” state epidemiologist Pradeep Awate said.

Additionally, it was only after March 16, almost two months after the first China advisory, that the government started the quarantine of passengers coming from the UAE, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait. The same day, passengers from EU, Turkey and the UK were banned, and on March 22, all international flights were suspended.

Social distancing is difficult in slums

Awate added that most cases were now coming from the lower socio-economic strata. He added that the cases are spreading in slums not because of a particular religious group, but because of poor living conditions. In the slums, Muslims are in large numbers and at least 8-10 people live in a small room where social distancing is difficult, Awate said.

It was evident is wards of Agripada and Nagpada, where 34 deaths were recorded, the second-highest coronavirus toll after the G-South ward (Worli) in Mumbai.

“Several in this ward live in chawls and it is there that cases are increasing. One residential building with Muslim residents had 26 people with foreign travel history, but only one tested positive. The infection did not spread in the building. But in a chawl one case can potentially infect several others, and all nearby chawls have Covid cases,” said Prashant Gaikwad, assistant commissioner, BMC.

Govt ropes in community leaders, Mosques

Following the development, the state public health department has roped in Mosques and local Maulanas to relay coronavirus awareness messages to the Muslim community.

“We are now trying to look for local popular figures who can act as messengers and disseminate information about the disease locally. We will soon issue awareness messages in Urdu in hotspots like Malegaon and Mumbai to reach out to minority,” said Awate.

Meanwhile, Maharashtra had recorded 651 deaths and 16,758 cases of coronavirus. Mumbai and Pune together account for 75 per cent of cases of the state.

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