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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - Over 700 teachers die of COVID-19 after poll duty in Indian state of Uttar Pradesh
NEW DELHI: More than 700 teachers have died of coronavirus in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh after doing poll duty, a teachers’ union said Friday.
Thursday was the last day of the four-phase local body elections in Uttar Pradesh that began in the first week of April, despite a catastrophic surge in COVID-19 infections across the country.
India on Friday reported over 386,000 new coronavirus cases and over 3,500 related deaths, its highest daily death toll since the beginning of the pandemic.
Uttar Pradesh, the biggest and the most populous state, is one of the worst affected regions in India.
Most of its cities and small towns are in chaos, with people losing their lives due to the absence of hospital beds and oxygen supplies.
As poll duty deaths mounted in the state, the Uttar Pradesh Middle School Teachers’ Union demanded the postponement of the vote-counting process slated for Sunday.
“We have lost over 700 teachers so far during the election process and if the counting is allowed to be held it will cause further havoc,” the union’s spokesperson Dr. R. P. Mishra told Arab News.
At least 15,000 schoolteachers are reported to have been involved in the election process, with many deployed to rural areas where medical help was unavailable.
“The data we have prepared so far suggests that many teachers got COVID-19 when they went for training for a day and, due to the lack of medical facilities in the village and rush in the hospitals, many lost their lives,” said Mishra.
A 36-year-old teacher, Vivek Shukla from Raebareli district, went for a day-long orientation course for election workers on April 5. He developed coronavirus symptoms when he returned home and died of COVID-19 last week.
“He was fine the day he left for election training. He fell sick after he came back. The situation is so bad that people are dying in hordes,” Vivek’s uncle Jagjivan Shukla told Arab News. “His two little daughters and his wife are left without a family breadwinner. What was the need for an election at this time when the pandemic was again rising?”
Even a ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lawmaker from the state, Umesh Dwivedi, questioned the need to have polls when the country was facing a surge.
“The situation is really very grim all across the state and I fear the teachers have died in thousands in the last one month,” said Dwivedi. “What was the need to conduct elections in this time of the pandemic, when saving lives should have been the priority of the administration?”
A ruling Bharatiya Janata Party lawmaker from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, Umesh Dwivedi, questioned the need to have polls when the country was facing a surge.
He added that the election had not only become the biggest “super spreader” of the virus, it had taken the pandemic to rural areas that had largely been free of coronavirus.
But BJP spokesperson, Rakesh Tripathi, denied that health protocols had been violated during the election process.
“The election took place at the direction of the state high court, and we tried to follow COVID-19 protocols,” he told Arab News, adding that vote counting would be held as scheduled despite the union’s protest.
“No matter, the counting will take place on May 2. We have to get used to living with coronavirus. We have to carry (on) our normal life amidst the presence of the virus.”
Uttar Pradesh-based political analyst and former bureaucrat Surya Pratap Singh expressed his fears that the situation in Uttar Pradesh would spiral out of control.
“The local body election is going to be a horror and I foresee we would require 100,000 intensive care unit beds after the election process is over,” he told Arab News. “The government was not prepared for this wave, they were busy with elections that’s why they could not prepare for this tragedy. The election has become a cause for the spread of the virus across the state. We are staring at a grave tragedy.”
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