Buses head from Nizamuddin West to quarantine facilities in Delhi on Tuesday afternoon. (Express photo by Praveen Khanna)
AS MANY AS 20 states and Union Territories are scrambling to identify, quarantine and test all those who attended a gathering of almost 4,000 people at Markaz Nizamuddin, the headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat in New Delhi, in the middle of March.
Cases are showing up in different states, with Tamil Nadu announcing that 50 of the 57 COVID-19 positive cases Tuesday were of those who participated in the congregation. A day earlier, Telangana said five who died and tested positive for COVID-19 were present at the event.
The movement of people, including that of foreign nationals from Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and other countries, from Delhi to other states after the gathering, has presented a complex contact tracing task before the health and law enforcement authorities.
Delhi evacuated 1,548 people over the last three days, and with 18 from the area testing positive, the area was put under a strict lockdown.
Andhra Pradesh has identified 711 persons who were at the gathering. From neighbouring Telangana, at least 400 persons participated in the meeting. While returning, a group from Karimnagar in the state brought along 10 Indonesians. They travelled from Delhi by train in a sleeper coach, alighted at Ramagundam in Peddapalli district on March 13, and visited mosques while travelling in autorickshaws. The next day, they went to Karimnagar, visited four mosques, and interacted with students. One of the Indonesians tested positive on March 17, and the remaining nine the next day.
Meanwhile, of the 711 identified, Andhra Pradesh quarantined 122 at private hospitals and isolation facilities, 207 at government hospitals, and 297 in their homes. The remaining 87 are untraceable. “We are trying to gather information if anyone else travelled to Nizamuddin for the meeting,’’ Minister Perni Venkataramiah said.
In Tamil Nadu, officials said 1,031 people attended the congregation, but are yet to trace 300. “All of them have returned, but many phones are switched off and others could not be traced at their addresses. About 400 people are still stranded in Delhi,” said K Shanmugam, state chief secretary. “We have to quarantine them, screen all their contacts. We will do it in two or three days,” he said.
Karnataka has placed 78 persons, including 50 foreign nationals, in quarantine, after authorities discovered that the 60-year-old man who died in Tumkur on March 27 was also infected at the Markaz. “We are not sure if all 78 quarantined persons participated in the congregation in Delhi but they are all from the Tablighi Jamaat,” he said. The police claimed that as many as 300 people linked to the Jamaat from Karnataka participated in the event between March 8 and March 11 — and efforts were on to put everyone in quarantine.
In Kerala, officials said about 59 persons had attended the programme in Delhi, and the process of identification was still on.
Closer to Delhi, the Uttar Pradesh government said 157 persons from 19 districts attended the congregation, six of whom have tested positive for Coronavirus. On Tuesday, a police team checked the residence of all 157 persons to find that just nine had returned so far. After a medical examination, they were quarantined. In Bijnor, the police booked five members of a mosque for allegedly sheltering eight Indonesian nationals who had participated in the congregation. Before coming to Bijnor, they had travelled to Odisha from Delhi. Their travel details in Odisha are being acquired to trace the chain of contacts.
While both Assam and Uttarakhand said they had records of the persons who attended the programme in Delhi, they were relieved that most or all of them continued to remain in Delhi. A total of 456 persons from Assam were in Delhi for the congregation, and are said to be still in and around the Nizamuddin mosque. Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma said the government would quarantine anyone found to have returned from there. All 26 people from Uttarakhand who were in the gathering, are still there, said an official.
In West Bengal, the home and the health departments were still tracking such people. Sources said as many as 73 persons from the state attended the event. “The process of identification is on, and they are being quarantined for 14 days, and will be tested for Covid-19,” said an official.
While Jharkhand is still trying to ascertain the number of persons who went from the state to Delhi for the congregation, Bihar Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Amir Subhani said the state did not have any data so far.
In Maharashtra too, state Minority Affairs Minister Nawab Malik said, the state did not have a precise number of people who went to the Delhi Markaz in March. But a Jamaat member, who did not wish to be named, said, “During March 7-9, there was an aalmi mushavra (discussion with experts) which may have been attended by over 40 people from the state.”
Over the last week, the J-K administration too embarked on a mission to find how many visited the Tablighi Markaz in Delhi. It prepared a list of 800 persons, which included those who were in contact with persons present in the gatherings. Official sources said the administration had already contacted over 350 persons and put them under quarantine while the search for others was on.
(With inputs from ENS Guwahati, Mumbai, Ranchi, Dehradun, Patna, Srinagar, New Delhi)