Places of worship act to contain Covid-19 infections 


Events, school visits and religious assemblies at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, north London, have been cancelled or postponed until further notice, it announced last week (Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty Images).
Events, school visits and religious assemblies at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, north London, have been cancelled or postponed until further notice, it announced last week (Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty Images).

By Nadeem Badshah

BRITAIN confirmed that six people had died and more than 370 were infected with the coronavirus on Tuesday (10), as more than 115,124 cases have been recorded in 105 countries and territories worldwide.

Airlines have cancelled flights and places of worship have adopted special measures to stop the spread of the virus which has infected more than 15,000 people in Europe so far.

The number of cases in the UK has grown rapidly, with an estimated 373 confirmed to have contracted the virus. Downing Street said plans to delay the spread of Covid-19 with “social distancing” measures will not be introduced yet, but warned that the virus “is going to spread in a significant way”.

Prime minister Boris Johnson acknowledged on Monday (9) that the outbreak would be a “big national challenge”.

“But it is also obvious to me that we now have to defeat it, and with a great national effort we will be able to pull together and do just that,” Johnson said.

Since the outbreak, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh leaders have issued health and hygiene advice to worshippers in a bid to prevent more people falling ill.

A spokesperson for the Hindu Council UK told Eastern Eye on Tuesday that all the temples they were in contact with were “fully tuned” to the seriousness of the outbreak. Many temples were displaying health notices in English and Hindi, and places of worship were also trying to discourage large gatherings as the spring festival of Holi was celebrated on Tuesday.

“We have also noticed that temple volunteers are paying more attention to elderly devotees for their wellbeing,” Rajnish Kashyap, the general secretary of the council, said. “It seems that the temples are monitoring the situation closely”.

It comes after the Bhaktivedanta Manor temple, near Watford, was closed last Friday (6) as a “precautionary measure” until further notice after a member of the congregation tested positive for the virus.

Managing director Gauri Das said the person who tested positive had not been to the temple, but “others have been in contact with them”. He added the temple would be deep cleaned.

Hindu temples have also encouraged worshippers to use the namaste folded hand greeting while meeting people rather than shaking hands.

Arjun Shakti, spokesman for the Hindu Human Rights Group, told Eastern Eye: “A few temples have started to caution their Hindu congregations about the spread of the coronavirus by keeping to the Hindu namaste greeting to stop the spread of infection by shaking hands.”

“From what we have heard, some temples have encouraged Hindus to be cautious by using namaste more now than ever because of the virus. And it’s even been encouraged among the mainstream public. Some medical experts have also suggested using namaste or just not shaking hands as a safeguard.”

Meanwhile, events, school visits and religious assemblies at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, north London, have been cancelled or postponed until further notice, it announced last week. All planned events at all BAPS temples and centres across the UK and in Europe have also been cancelled or postponed until further notice.

The Shri Vallabh Nidhi temple in London has also cancelled its Holi celebrations.

Meanwhile, mosques were advised to keep their sink areas clean and spread the word about hygiene during Friday sermons.

The Mosque and Imam National Advisory Board said anyone with symptoms including a fever, breathing problems and coughing should visit their GP and avoid going to a mosque.

It also called for people to avoid the traditional handshake greeting before and after prayers.

The Muslim Council of Britain has advised mosques to plan in case there are restrictions on gatherings during Ramadan, which begins in late April.

It said: “At present there is no advice on restricting gatherings. However, there is the possibility that we may be advised to do so or quarantine certain areas.

“Now is a good opportunity for mosques to plan for such a situation and understand how it might work in practice.

“If we were told as such by the authorities, we would expect the mosque committee and scholars to show clear, decisive leadership and follow the public health advice which may include considering the suspension of congregational prayers and events.

“If the situation was to continue until Ramadan, the advice regarding fasting should follow similar religious rulings to other flu-like illnesses, based on the information we have at present.”

The Gurdwara Aid charity has advised Sikh places of worship to increase cleaning schedules around its premises and top up soap supplies, provide sanitiser gel and extra bins.

It also urged people to use paper towels and tissues when coughing and sneezing, and ensure dishes in the langar hall are washed thoroughly in hot water.

Harmander Singh, chair of the National Sikh Security Council, told Eastern Eye: “What concerns me is the advice does need to be translated officially in Punjabi. And be aware of entrepreneurs coming up with remedies to sell.

“The NHS has provided guidance for mass gatherings, as well as mosques and gurdwaras which is being circulated. Until the government says there is a ban on mass gatherings like prayers, funerals and weddings, it is no different to flu preparations that we did last time.

“We will face that when we need to. For now, it is about being informed. The government has set up a unit to stop disinformation like having onion with water as a remedy which is nonsense.”

The Sikh Federation UK group urged worshippers that it is “time to make greater use of greeting each other with hands pressed together like the Sikh salutation” following the outbreak.

Ravinder Singh, CEO of the Khalsa Aid charity, said: “Every gurdwara has a duty to safeguard the sangat [worshippers], especially now with the very real threat of coronavirus. Each gurdwara should appoint a panel consisting of health professionals to oversee the safety of the sangat.”

Ministers have pledged that the government will invest £46 million into research to develop a rapid test for coronavirus.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak insisted last weekend that the government was ready to deliver “whatever action is required” to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

Asked if he would be spending and borrowing more to get through the crisis, he said: “We’re looking very hard at the range of scenarios and making sure that in each of those, we can respond appropriately. And that means providing support for public services.

“We’ve already done that with regard to the NHS, making sure that we can support vulnerable people, and also making sure that we can help businesses get through what could be an impact on their businesses – it could be significant, but for a temporary period of time.”

The measures come as faith groups were asked to relax rules for funerals and burials if a pandemic led to a steep increase in deaths. The blueprint for how London would dispose of bodies safely and with dignity in the event of a major disaster says that to prevent strain on cemeteries and crematoria, local religious groups which might usually hold funerals within 24 hours “have agreed in principle that certain requirements may not be adhered to if mass storage is necessary”.

The plan drawn up by the London Resilience Forum also includes creating extra storage at crematoria, hiring chilled storage units and training police to identify death and rule out foul play in clear-cut cases.

Burials should go ahead if families are unable to pay fees immediately, with money “reclaimed at a later date”, and closed cemeteries could be reopened. In the very worst scenario, mass graves and funeral pyres may be considered.