Modi set to visit Ayodhya temple site despite Amit Shah having COVID-19

A general view of Ayodhya is seen after Supreme Court’s verdict on a disputed religious site, India, November 10, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

LUCKNOW, India/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend a foundation-laying ceremony for the Ram temple in Ayodhya on Wednesday, organisers said, even though Home Minister Amit Shah has contracted COVID-19.

Amit Shah, who is Modi’s top lieutenant as well as India’s interior minister, was admitted to a private hospital near Delhi on Sunday, four days after attending a cabinet meeting at which the prime minister was present.

But preparations are continuing for Modi to visit a temple that is being built in honour of Hindu god-king Ram in the northern town of Ayodhya, said the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust, which is building at the site of a mosque that was razed nearly three decades ago.

India’s newly appointed Home Minister Amit Shah greets the media upon his arrival at the home ministry in New Delhi, India, June 1, 2019. REUTERS/Altaf Hussain

Modi’s office did not respond to an email seeking comment, but the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, another group involved in the temple’s construction at a site long disputed with Muslims, said Modi would make the visit.

Sources familiar with the situation said an official announcement on the visit was expected on Tuesday.

The sources dismissed undue concern about others falling ill after Shah, saying social distancing rules had been followed at last week’s cabinet meeting at Modi’s residence.

It was not immediately clear whether Modi and others who attended had subsequently been tested for COVID-19.

Indian government data on Monday showed 52,972 new coronavirus patients had been registered in the previous 24 hours, taking India’s total to 1.8 million – the third highest in the world after the United States and Brazil.

With 771 new deaths, COVID-19 has now killed 38,135 people in India, including a minister on Sunday in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The World Health Organization’s emergencies chief, Mike Ryan, praised India’s efforts to beef up testing but expressed concern about a high positive rate, estimated at 12.5 percent.

“It does demonstrate that the disease is still circulating intensely,” he told a Geneva briefing.

Shah’s admission to a private hospital drew criticism on social media in a country where public health infrastructure is creaking after years of under-investment. An aide said Shah was paying for his treatment and wanted to reduce pressure on government hospitals.

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