Day 13. The Wuhan Plague Papers. Sunday 28th March 2020
Deaths from Covid-19 have reached 1,000 in the UK and doubled to 2,000 in the US in two days.
It’s Passion Sunday. First Day of Spring! Clocks forward – was ever an hour so gratefully lost?
I’ve forgotten all about Lent! The whole of life is now some kind of vast imposed Lenten project and I’m not that bothered about churches being closed I’m repentant to say, but for Sikhs and Muslims ‘church’ which represents a whole identity cannot stop.
The Death toll in Iran has risen to 2,517. Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour told Iranian state television yesterday (28th) that the total number of cases had risen in one day by 3,076, to a total of 35,408. Earlier last week, authorities enacted a new travel ban after fears that many Iranians had ignored previous advice to cancel travel plans for the Persian New Year holidays.
The highest percentage of British Asians is in London, 18.5 %, the second highest in the West Midlands, at 10.8%, which is now a hot-spot for Corona-19. Khalid Mahmood, MP for Birmingham Perry Bar, says that older Sikhs and Muslims are, ‘Struggling to keep to government guidelines,’ on social distancing and self-isolating. Some mosques and Gurdwara are still opening. Jatinder Singh President of the Gurdwara in Smethwick, the biggest in Europe, told BBC Radio 4 that services are continuing although, ‘reduced’ and trying to use more video links and YouTube.
‘It’s a huge problem, said Kamran Shezad who runs the Bahu Trust, a Sufi charity based in Sparkbrook, Birmingham, representing twenty-two mosques across the UK. ‘With the problem of funerals and Ramadan coming up,’ he said, ‘it’s inconceivable doing these things without the mosques.’
Funerals are going to be a big issue. The British Board of Scholars and Imams, (BBSI) which gives advice on them, says there is no alternative to burial in Islam, and funerals usually attract large crowds.
On March 23rd Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, confirmed that the Government’s emergency legislation had been amended to ensure that the beliefs of faith communities were respected. That came after MPs and religious groups raised fears that the Coronavirus Bill would allow local authorities to cremate bodies without the consent of the deceased or their family in order to relieve pressure on morgues and funeral services. Matt Hancock said the Government recognised the need to “accede to the wishes of the families and faith communities” and had therefore accepted the changes.
Under Islam bodies have to be buried within forty-eight hours, after they’ve been washed usually by members of the family. Funeral directors are volunteers in the local community. Shayke Dr. Asim Yusof, Chairman of the BBSI, who was recently invited to give a lecture at the Royal College of Psychiatrists on, ‘Islam, Spirituality and Mental Health,’ told the BBC today, (Sunday) that ‘Taking bodies from hospital straight to the crematorium is ‘causing anxiety’ among Muslims who are sometimes being given ‘different opinions’ by ‘different doctors.’
He didn’t say who they were but added that ‘discussion’ going on with local councils on how we can all ‘adjust’ to the situation. He wasn’t asked and didn’t say if any pressure is being put on local councils by Muslims.
He also told the BBC Sunday programme that Muslims, ‘Tend to be accepting of death.’
Defoe in the 17th century said the same thing. He heard about Islam from travelling merchants, and observed that the Islamic attitude to death was dangerous in places of plague:
‘How presuming upon their profess’d predestinating Notions, and of every Man’s End being predetermin’d and unalterably before-hand decreed,’ he wrote, ‘they would go unconcern’d into infected places, and converse with infected Persons, by which means they died at the Rate of Ten or Fifteen thousand a week, whereas Europeans, or Christian merchants who kept themselves retired and reserv’d, generally escaped the Contagion.’
According to Steve Pont beleaguered head of Derbyshire Police, some of the descendants of those Christians, who’ve never heard of predestination or God’s will, have been going on long car journeys to the Peak District to go rambling, and not retiring at all. Pont’s force has been using drones to film them flouting government directives to try to enforce the lock-down.
Canal and river towpaths are often blocked by joggers, and cyclists are also out in force, as it’s well known that Covid -19 cannot possibly penetrate Lycra.
As Defoe put it: ‘Nothing is more fatal to the inhabitants of this City, than the Supine negligence of the people themselves, who during the long notice, or Warning they had of the Visitation made no provision for it by laying in provisions, nor were they so shy of conversing with one another, when actually infected as they were at first, before they knew it.’
Retire to the attic to work on some self- portraits which seems appropriate as we are all being forced to look more closely at ourselves in our various garrets, in hiding.