Detection of Covid-19 patients from mosques prompts government to start mass testing at religious sites with dozens of people in a single residential unitMonasteries, vihars, gurukuls and mosques house dozens of devotees and students studying religious texts.
An increase in the number of Covid-19 patients from mosques has prompted the government to start mass testing at religious sites that have dozens of people living in a single residential unit.
The government on March 18 barred the gathering of more than 25 people in a single place in an attempt to avert possible spread of the disease and imposed a lockdown across the country five days later. However, shrines of various religions continue to have dozens of students, priests and monks in a single building, posing a threat of the spread of coronavirus.
The monasteries and vihars belonging to Buddhists, gurukuls of Hindus and mosques of Muslims house dozens of devotees and students studying religious texts. On Friday, 12 people residing at a mosque in Udayapur tested positive for Covid-19. On April 12, three Indian nationals taking shelter in a Birgunj-based mosque were found to have been infected with the disease.
“The places with large numbers of residents obviously pose high risks,” Dr Bikash Devkota, spokesperson for the Health Ministry, told the Post. “Mass testing will start in these places soon.” He said the ministry has already directed the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division to start the test for Covid-19 in monasteries, vihars, mosques and gurukuls.
The organisations of different faith groups say they have directed the religious sites affiliated to them to take necessary precautions to ensure they avoid any kind of risky activities. Mani Gurung, an official at the Buddhist Philosophy Promotion and Monastery Development Committee, said they have asked the management teams of the monasteries and vihars to take necessary precautions to ensure that students, monks, and nuns are safe.
He said since some monasteries have as many as 800 monks and Lama students residing within a single unit, they could be at risk. “We have written twice asking them to remain alert. Now we are making calls to the management to know what precautions they are taking,” he told the Post.
As many as 2,800 monasteries and vihars have been registered with the committee while there are many others that do not have the registration. Gurung said Phulari Monastery at Pharping has around 800 people while Kapan Monastery in Kapan has more than 500 monks and nuns in it. “We have been told the movement outside the premises of the monasteries has been stopped while physical distancing has been adopted to the extent it is possible,” he said.
Following the two cases of coronavirus reported in two mosques in a week, the Islami Sangh Nepal has directed the bodies managing the mosques to strictly inform the local administration if there are any pilgrims coming from India or other countries. Among the 15 people found infected in the mosques, 14 were from India.
Khursid Alam, chairperson of the association, said they have also asked to ensure that only a maximum of five people reside in a mosque. “We have completely banned prayers in mosques ever since the lockdown started,” he told the Post. “We have asked all the managements in the mosques to cooperate with government entities for testing and quarantines if necessary.”
Stating that it was just a coincidence that 15 pilgrims residing in the mosques tested positive for the Covid-19, he said it has nothing to do with the religion. He expressed concerns that they had been wrongly accused of hiding the pilgrims from India. “We know the severity of the disease and we are committed to implementing any steps the government takes,” he said.
The gurukuls providing Sanskrit education at the school level make hostel mandatory for students. Thousands of students study in around 100 such schools operated by different Hindu temples and religious organisations. However, a majority of such schools have sent students home following the government’s decision. “We don’t have students in our gurukul,” Pradip Dhakal, member-secretary at the Pashupati Area Development Trust, told the Post.
However, many Hindu shrines like Swargadwari Ashram in Pyuthan have dozens of priests residing in their premises though. A majority of students from the Ashram’s schools are on vacation.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of September 22, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. Covid-19 has spread to 213 countries and territories around the world and infected more than 31,405,983 people with 967,505 deaths and 22,990,260 recoveries. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 5,557,573 with 88,943 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 306,304 confirmed cases with 6,420 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 65,276 cases with 427 deaths.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.