Melbourne Muslims Concerned After Rumours Link Coronavirus Spike to Eid Parties25 Jun 2020
Muslim families and community leaders in Melbourne, Australia have been left concerned after unsubstantiated rumours emerged, linking the city’s coronavirus spike to family gatherings that took place during Eid.
These claims have since been boosted by a number of major Australian news publications, raising fears among the city’s Muslim communities that they could be stigmatised.
Concerns have also been raised that a number of information and contact-tracing campaigns were carried out in English only, even in areas with high numbers of non-English speakers, raising risks of the outbreak spreading due to government failure to raise awareness.
Melbourne and the surrounding areas are seeing a rapid rise in coronavirus infections
The city of Melbourne, Australia, is in a state of alert after it witnessed a surge of infections in the double-digits. According to officials, the city, the second-largest in the country, as well as the wider state of Victoria saw 126 new cases over the past week. As a result, the state of Victoria is re-implementing lockdown and calling in the army for logistical support and testing.
The exact source of the outbreak is still being investigated. At least two workers in the distribution centres of the supermarket chain Coles were found to have been infected, with contact-testing being done to ensure all those that they had contact with can be self-isolated. Tracing indicated that family gatherings may have been linked to the infections.
Perhaps in relation to this, some news outlets in Australia started reporting that the family gatherings in question were Eid celebrations. Dubbed the “Coburg family cluster”, the infections, first reported two weeks ago, have extended to 14 cases including students in primary schools.
According to the Guardian, the only source cited is a receptionist at the Pakenham Medical Clinic who confirmed that a female patient attended the clinic in June 10. She was confirmed positive for COVID-19 and it was believed that she may have contracted it at a family gathering.
The Eid connection, however, was tenuous, with most of the sources suggesting that they were based on “what [they] heard around the office”.
“It just plays into the same narrative that Muslims are untrustworthy”
Adel Salman, the vice-president of the Islamic Council of Victoria, said that he was concerned about these rumours, feeling that it reinforces the idea that Muslim communities have been flouting lockdown rules so that a threat narrative can be created.
“Muslims acted very responsibly. I could not say that every single Muslim family complied, obviously, but … all the information that we’ve received is that Muslims acted very, very responsibly,” Salman said.
Other outlets suggested that although the Melbourne spike may be focused among migrant communities, the source for the blame lies with Whispir, a company paid by the government of Victoria to inform families of the coronavirus and help with contact tracing. The Victorian government revealed that the campaigns led by the company were in English only, leaving many migrant families in Melbourne insufficiently informed.
For the Muslims of Melbourne, the explanation offers scant comfort. Many of them fear that the conspiracy theories that linked Muslims to the spread of the outbreak during the earlier days will make a comeback as a result of these claims.
“I’m really concerned, I’m thinking ‘here we go again’, scapegoating, marginalising, unfairly stigmatising the Muslim community,” said Salman.