Rajat Sharma

How crowds are acting as super spreaders of Coronavirus

28th OCTOBER NEWS 09.38 PM_frame_7979There appeared to be some relief from the rising surge in fresh pandemic cases on Monday, when the number of fresh Covid-19 cases went below the 4-lakh mark after a consistent rise for the last four days. Nearly 3.66 lakh fresh cases were reported during the last 24 hours, while there was jump of only 9,000 odd active cases. This happened after a big surge for the last 55 days. Lockdown and night curfew are in force in 18 states because of which there has been lesser number of cases compared to previous weeks.

In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Monday night, we showed how huge crowd of mourners joined the funeral of a Muslim cleric in Badayun of Uttar Pradesh. It was the funeral of the district Qazi, Hazrat Sheikh Abdul Hamid Mohammed Salim ul Qadri known popularly as Salim Miyan. The narrow streets of the town were packed with mourners following the cortege. This congregation took place despite the state government extending curfew through UP till May 17. Weddings, social gatherings have been prohibited and only up to 20 mourners are allowed at a funeral, but the Badayun incident was really shocking. The crowd was anywhere up to 20,000. Such an act of indiscipline is nothing but a sure invitation to the virus. All efforts at breaking the virus chain came to nought with this huge crowd. Despite frequent appeals from the police not to congregate, thousands came out of their homes and joined the funeral.

This is not confined to a particular town or state. In Berhampur town of Odisha, hundreds of women devotees came out to join a gathering on the occasion of a temple inauguration on Monday. You may remember the huge gathering of women devotees carrying pots on their heads in Sanand district of Gujarat a few days ago for thanksgiving to God for not ‘allowing’ a single Covid case in their village. In Berhampur, however, the executive magistrate spoke to the temple priests, sent the women devotees home and locked the temple.

In the holy city of Haridwar, hundreds of people coming daily to the Ganga river ghats to perform religious rites in memory of their relatives who died recently due to Covid-19. Disregarding all restrictions, hundreds of devotees from Delhi, Haryana, UP and Madhya Pradesh are daily performing rituals and taking a dip in the river. You may remember the huge Kumbh Mela that took place last month, which later acted as a super spreader. From April 1 till May 7, there were more than 1.3 lakh Covid-19 cases in Uttarakhand. This figure is double the number of Covid-19 cases recorded in the state till April 1. There have been more than 3,400 Covid-related deaths in Uttarakhand. On Monday alone, there were 5,541 new cases in the state. The number of active cases stands at 74,480, as of Monday.

There were huge crowds of people above the age of 18 years in Patna, Jehanabad, Madhubani, Begusarai and other district towns who were waiting for their turn for vaccination. There was no social distancing worth the name, and such congregations will surely help in the spread of the virus. Police had to be sent to stop scuffles breaking among the crowd for vaccination. There is urgent need to apply strict protocol to discourage congregation of people at vaccination centres.

Congregation of people in whatever form, whether for religious rites or for mass vaccination is a sure invite to disaster. Remember, Coronavirus does not differentiates between Hindus or Muslims or any other communities, it strikes whenever there is a big crowd. The new Indian variant is a deadly one, whose reach is bigger and faster. If thousands of people congregate at one place, if the virus spreads, they will be no point blaming the government.

Let me strike a note of warning: the danger is now deadlier. It strike so fast that the patient does not even get time to protect. Several doctors, I spoke to, said, the second wave is yet to achieve its peak. The third wave of pandemic is inevitable. The American Center for Disease Control and Prevention has already warned that the Coronavirus is now airborne. Even six-feet distancing will not help in breaking the virus chain. New research says, this virus is now spread in the form of mist particles, and is particularly active in those homes where there is poor ventilation. In such spaces, the virus, in the form of aerosol, stays for a longer duration and can spread to distances more than a metre.

On Monday, the most worrying visuals came from Buxar in Bihar and Hamirpur in UP. Nearly 30 floating half-burnt bodies were found by villagers at Mahadev ghat in Chausa village of Buxar district on Monday. Some villagers counted the number of floating bodies at 150, but the district administration puts the number at 30. The district magistrate of Buxar said these bodies were not of local residents, but appeared to be of those who were dumped in the river Ganga nearly three to four days ago in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh. The local administration has now got the floating bodies cremated.

Think about how these floating bodies of Covid patients could act as carriers of virus. Throwing bodies of Covid patients in river is a criminal act. I understand there is severe constraint of time and space at cremation grounds and graveyards, but throwing dead bodies in a river is nothing short of a crime.

The second wave of pandemic has taken a severe toll of teachers in Aligarh Muslim University. At least 18 sitting professors of AMU have died during the past three weeks. AMU has its own medical college campus, these professors were given treatment on time but could not be saved. Till now, 45 persons, including non-teaching staff have died in AMU. The chief of the medical college has written a letter to ICMR (Indian Council for Medical Research) head fearing that a new variant of Coronavirus appears to be active in the Civil Lines area of Aligarh. He has sent the medical samples to ICMR for further probe. However, the principal of Nehru Medical College has said that among the dead professors, there were 15 who were Covid patients or Covid suspects, and three professors died due to other causes.

In the midst of gloom and sadness, comes report of an unscrupulous businessman collecting shrouds, bed sheet, kurta, sari, and shawls from the bodies of Covid-19 victims, repackaging them with stickers and selling them in the market of Baghpat, UP. The mastermind, Praveen Jain, used to pay Rs 300 daily to vagrants who collect such clothes discarded from bodies before cremation. Police have seized 520 bed sheets, 127 kurtas, 140 shirts, 34 dhoti, 12 shawls and 52 sarees from this businessman. Such visuals evoke anger and revulsion in our minds.

In Nagpur, Maharashtra, blood plasma is being sold for Rs 15-20,000 per unit, while the state government has fixed the rate of Rs 5,500-6,000. Due to strong demand, black marketers are making a killing in the market by fleecing relatives of Covid-19 patients.

Fraudsters too are active. The director of Jabalpur City Hospital Sarabjit Singh Mokha, the owner of a pharma sales firm Sapan Jain and a hospital employee were part of a gang that used to give fake Remdesivir injections to Covid-19 patients. All three are absconding. The racket was busted when Gujarat police team came to Jabalpur while probing the sale of fake injections. In Indore, two fake Remdesivir injections were sold for Rs 40,000 to the wife of a Covid-19 patient by a cheat, who is absconding.

In ‘Aaj Ki Baat’, we mentioned the case of a lady, who was duped by a trickster by collecting money online for Remdesivir injections. The trickster has since vanished. Another lady in Delhi was duped of Rs 15,000 by an online trickster who promised to deliver two oxygen cylinders, which never came. A national level shooter Ayesha Falak was duped of Rs 5,000 in a similar manner who had promised to deliver oxygen cylinders.

Making money through hoarding, profiteering and fraud, is an unpardonable act. Police must act stringently against such people and they should be punished in a such a manner that others would think twice before committing such an act. Selling of fake injections should count among the most inhuman and criminal acts. I hope state governments will alert people about such profiteers and tricksters who are lurking everywhere, particularly on social media.

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