Gujarat Govt on Sticky Wicket: Cricket Matches at 110,000-Capacity Stadium May Expose State to Corona Risk

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The 110,000-seater stadium in Ahmedabad was renamed after India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a surprise move on Wednesday. — Yahoo News

As President Ram Nath Kovind inaugurated the Rs 8-billion stadium, the menacing micro-organism was on the prowl in Gujarat with 70 of the state’s 350 new cases reported in Ahmedabad alone

Mahesh Trivedi | Clarion India

AHMEDABAD — The world’s largest cricket stadium hosting the first day-and-night Test between India and England here from Wednesday could well turn into a new epicentre of the killer coronavirus disease (Covid-19) that has claimed 2,300 lives and afflicted some 62,500 people so far in Gujarat’s largest city.

Coming just a day after thousands of frenzied fans of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) threw social distancing guidelines to the winds by hitting the streets to celebrate the party’s landslide victory in elections to civic bodies in Gujarat’s six major cities, the Third Test will see some 55,000 lovers of the gentleman’s game packed like sardines in the 110,000-seat Sardar Patel stadium — renamed Narendra Modi stadium on Wednesday — for several hours for five days.

Considering the fact that about 200 Indians have already been infected with the new deadlier United Kingdom (UK)-origin variant of coronavirus, the presence of scores of cricketers, journalists and other guests from the UK in the city for a month till the Fourth Test and five T-20 international matches are played at the 63-acre, second biggest sports complex on the globe up to March 20 is sure to keep the authorities on tenterhooks in the days to come.

On Wednesday, as President Ram Nath Kovind inaugurated the Rs 8-billion, up-to-the minute stadium, the menacing micro-organism was on the prowl in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s homeland with 70 of the state’s 350 new cases reported in the city, prompting the Ahmedabad Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association to warn Chief Minister Vijay Rupani that the situation could go out of control if he fails to enforce strict measures, including wearing face masks and social distancing, to keep the virus at bay.

Even as Gujarat has recorded 270,000 Covid cases and 4.410 deaths so far, the Gujarat High Court hearing a case on Tuesday also told the authorities to be careful about another surge in cases, adding that any complacency or reckless attitude “may once again push us to the horrifying days of lockdown as the rising grip of the pandemic is once again gaining momentum”.

But the BJP-controlled state government seems to have played with fire by allowing the Board of Control for Cricket in India and the Gujarat Cricket Association to use the stadium for holding as many as seven matches with England exactly one year after the February 24 ‘Namaste Trump’ event that many say had led to community transmission of the virus in Gujarat.

Ahead of former United States President Donald Trump’s February 24, 2020 three-hour visit that had left the Ahmedabad municipal corporation poorer by a whopping Rs 90 million, thousands of foreigners were allowed to descend on Ahmedabad despite the World Health Organisation warning against large gatherings.

Trump and Modi took part in a road show as countless people, most of them saffronites, stood shoulder to shoulder to greet the duo what with the two leaders also later addressing a gathering of over 100,000 people at the spacious stadium the renovated version of which is now equivalent to 32 Olympic-sized soccer fields.

Arguing the toss, Vadodara-based Baroda Muslim Doctors’ Association’s Dr Muhammed Husain, an HIV specialist who has been serving the covid patients for the past one year, told Clarion India that the coronavirus infection cases had shot up in the past one week due to the election fever, and now these cricket matches would worsen the situation.

Says social activist Dev Desai: “The cricket matches are being played at the same stadium which hosted the ‘Namaste Trump’ extravaganza which had triggered a spurt in covid cases in Gujarat. Now these matches are not a different ball game and are sure to spread the virus at a time when the world is fighting the death-dealing new strain of coronavirus”

According to Jatin Sheth, convener of the Citizens Empowerment Forum, the state administration will be responsible for spread of coronavirus due to the mass gathering but Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are very smart to divert the public attention as they had done earlier by blaming the Tablighi Jamaat.

Popular Muslim community leader Zahid Kadri wondered why covid curbs are imposed against inviting even 200 people at weddings but the government looks the other way when 100,000 people gather for a money-spinning project.

While RTI activist and editor Mukesh Rajput said that there was every possibility of more Covid infections because of crowds, Nikunj Jethwa, an alert citizen, pointed out that the government was jeopardising public health for political gains. “That’s not cricket”, he added.

Sums up Surat-based social activist Sanjay Ezhva: “The Rupani regime will have to pay a heavy price for not learning from the consequences of Trump’s visit after which Covid cases had shot up and how!.”

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