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Faltering response to a merciless pandemic; Muslims use lockdown positively by helping the needy

24th Apr 2020

The warnings could not have been starker. And no governments can claim that they were unaware of the calamitous effects a pandemic could cause. As recent as 2016, a report exposing the UK’s unpreparedness was buried and its recommendations ignored.

In 2011 the Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation considered worldwide flu outbreaks among the most serious society was likely to face. It identified pandemic happens every 25 to 30 years on average. History is riddled with plagues and pestilence wreaking devastation to whole societies.

So, when it came, how did Boris Johnson’s Government react? After the death of the first Briton aboard the Diamond Princess Cruise ship quarantined at Yokohama on February 28, the Prime Minister insisted the issue of Coronavirus was “the Government’s top priority.” A few days later, he boasted that he was “shaking hands continuously” at a hospital including possibly with Covid-19 patients. “I want to stress that for the vast majority of the people of this country, we should be going about our business as usual.”

Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, and Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, announced that the UK had moved from containing the virus to delaying its spread. They planned to flatten the curve of the epidemic that would sweep through our population.

They reassured us that ‘herd immunity’ would kick in once 60 per cent of the population had been infected. What was left unsaid was that working from their figures as many as up to half a million could die particularly when there was no inoculation available for the deadly disease.
Misguided strategy aside, this country was also ill-prepared to deal with a pandemic after a decade of savage Tory austerity measures.

As it, unfortunately, turned out, there were gross shortages of ICU units and ventilators, even front-line health staff did not have adequate personal protection equipment (PPE) and clothes. Nothing had even been learned from the experience of Italy, when early April 100 doctors had died as well as dozens of nurses. The British Government was a shamble, out of its depth, dithering and Johnson-style waffling,

The response was not just inadequate, it was confusing. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle confirmed that the UK would be the worst-hit country in Europe. Its bleak warning was that there could be 66,000 UK fatalities from the highly contagious disease by August, with a peak of nearly 3,000 a day.

That was the equivalent of around 40 per cent of the total toll expected on the whole of the continent. It was said to have been based on a steep climb in the daily rate early in the outbreak while discussions over “herd immunity” led to a delay in the UK introducing physical distancing measures.

In contrast to Ireland, the reaction, whether deliberate or not, was woefully slow. Dublin cancelled mass gatherings for its national celebrations on St Patrick’s Day on March 9, while Britain still went ahead with the traditional four-day Cheltenham Festival national hunt racing between March 10 and 13, attended by over a quarter of a million. The eventual schools’ closure in Britain was a week later than in Ireland. Johnson’s eventual advice to work from home was only initially if possible, allowing for crowded commuters to mingle despite the danger of contagious Covid-19.

Ever since March 5, the Government’s response was to call their strategy the ‘delay phase’ unbelievably rather than containment and preventing deaths. In some ways, it has been seen as the Brexit mentality as if Britain knows best and wants to do things differently. But it is proving to be at such a huge cost in lives.

The extent of the devastation was preventable as Germany has shown in basing their strategy on extensive testing. It has been a shortage of kits that seemingly has prevented Britain from doing the same. Even worse has been the Government failure to provide PPEs for frontline NHS staff that has added to the death toll.

As it would be, Black and Asian people in the UK are more likely to be worse affected by Covid-19 than white people, according to research by the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre in its analysis of the first 2,249 critically ill patients.

It found that 35 per cent of patients were non-white, triple the 13 per cent proportion of the UK population as a whole. Part of the reason is believed to be because minorities often live in densely populated and more deprived areas, often in overcrowded accommodation while cardiovascular disease and diabetes are more common.

Eight British Muslim doctors and two nurses died after contracting Covid-19, after becoming the first of their profession to pass away from the deadly virus in the UK. An additional factor is that there is an over-representation of BAME health workers in the NHS, comprising of around 44 per cent of medical staff compared with 14 per cent of the population of England and Wales.

Mosques have played their part in the belated lockdown by arranging online services as well as other valuable charitable work to assist communities. They have been using existing audio connections to people’s homes to communicate messages on the Coronavirus and recitations of adhan, Qur’an giving lectures.

In addition, the mosques are now using digital means, Zoom, Hangouts, YouTube and so on for daily adhan, Qur’an recitations, lectures and giving guidance on how to cope living with the lockdown and giving spiritual guidance.

Due to the lockdown, Muslims will not be able to go for congregational prayers in mosques and join in communal ifṭārs (breaking fast). Ramadan is not only a time for fasting, praying, remembering God, helping the neighbours and others, spiritual reflection, unites Muslims, but also is a social occasion with extra congregational prayers and breaking fast together in mosques, family and friends’ homes.

For the elderly in particular, mosques are for social interaction. So, this year, Ramadan will be a challenging time for Muslims across the world. People will fast, pray and break their fast together as a family in their own homes. They will have their small congregational prayers. This will bring the family closer and there will be bonding between the first, second and third-generation Muslims.

Mosques, Muslim shopkeepers and Muslim charities across the country have been making huge contributions to the society, Muslim and non-Muslim, by providing much-needed help, both volunteers to collect groceries and medicines for the old, disabled and the unwell people and donating PPEs to hospitals and care homes and donating food to the foodbanks.
Going beyond charitable work, mosques are also helping in other ways.

For example, as we have reported elsewhere in the paper, a mosque in Bolton seeking to help locals by offering the premises to healthcare professionals to support end-of-life patients in palliative care and thereby freeing up space at hospitals for Covid-19 patients.

It coincides amid reports that more than one in seven people hospitalised with the Coronavirus in the UK will die while figures from intensive-care units show the death rate for critically ill patients, many of whom need ventilators, is over 50 per cent.

Despite the faltering response by the Government, neither Labour, which has been embroiled in a prolonged leadership election nor the media are trying to hold ministers and their failing piecemeal policies to account.

Daily Downing Street briefings have been such a sham with ministers being allowed with the support of their selected advisors to indulge in presentations purely for domestic consumption.

Often the most critical issues of the day have been diverted, including the Prime Minister receiving hospital treatment and other staged managed issues. Unfortunately, there appears to have been a distinct lack of empathy from the Government.

According to the former World Health Organisation Director, Anthony Costello, whatever Health Secretary Matt Hancock argues the Government’s policy remains a controversial herd immunity strategy.

When the lockdown is lifted, Professor of Global Health and Sustainable Development at University College London, believes that the virus will return because Britain does not have a way to control it. He warns that the pattern could go on for years until a vaccine is developed.

In the longer term, eventual plans by the Government may be able to measure how many people have had the virus and even whether health workers are immune. But without community surveillance, tests alone cannot prevent its spread. Ministers should listen to the WHO and learn from effective policies elsewhere.

Just because the UK is regrettably leaving the EU, doesn’t mean that the country has to do everything alone and in its often less effective way. Such is the tragedy that when the world faces the full force of a pandemic that both the UK and the US have popularist nationalist leaders that puts everyone at grave risk.

Bolton mosque offers 22 beds to local hospitals


Covid-19: Muslim charities rally in aid of the UK’s vulnerable

Covid-19: Muslim shopkeepers donate stock to vulnerable people

Covid-19: Rapid response by mosques from across the UK

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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence event is to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to society. Over 850 people from diverse background, Muslim and non-Muslim, attended the gala dinner.

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