'Feel Pained to Raise it': Harsh Vardhan Wants an End to Tablighi Jamaat-Coronavirus Debate

New Delhi: Appealing people to put an end to debates over the Tablighi Jamaat controversy, Union health minister Harsh Vardhan on Sunday said that he feels "pained to raise the matter repeatedly".

"Look, the truth is the matter has become old. Enough debates have been conducted over it. I feel pained to raise the matter over and over again," Harsh Vardhan responded to a question by BJP's Rajya Sabha MP GVL Narasimha Rao.

He further said that that there was no point in discussing the issue as most of the 'super spreader' had been "traced, quarantined and treated".

About 8,000 people in the Tablighi Jamaat congregation met for three days in March at the group's compound in the crowded Nizamuddin area of New Delhi, shortly before the Indian government banned large gatherings. The compound stayed open, later giving shelter to people stranded in a 21-day lockdown imposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24.

The government later blamed the Islamic missionary meeting for a surge in coronavirus cases, triggering a wave of violence, business boycotts and hate speech toward Muslims.

Politicians in Bharatiya Janata Party were quoted on TV and in newspapers describing the Jamaat incident as "corona terrorism". False news targeting Muslims began to circulate, including video clips purportedly showing congregation members spitting on authorities. The clips were quickly proven to be fake, yet by April 1, the hashtag "CoronaJihad" was trending on Twitter in India.

Lav Aggarwal, joint secretary of India's health ministry, repeatedly called out the congregation by name in daily news briefings. On April 5, he said the number of virus cases was doubling in just 4.1 days, and would have been a slower 7.4 days "if the additional...cases due to the Tablighi Jamaat meeting would not have arisen."

'4 Covid-19 Vaccines May Soon Enter Clinical Trial Stage in India'

Talking further about the development of Covid-19 vaccines, the minister said that at least four of the 14 candidate vaccines for the virus in the country may enter the clinical trial stage very soon.

"The whole world is trying to develop a vaccine for Covid-19. There are over 100 candidate vaccines which are at different levels of development. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is coordinating the efforts. India is also actively contributing in it. There are 14 candidates in India also which are at different levels..." Vardhan said.

He said the Department of Biotechnology of the Ministry of Science and Technology is helping the academic world and industry in all manners such as giving regulatory clearances, grants or financial support, among other things. "As far as I know, four of our fourteen vaccines will soon be in the clinical trial stage, within 4 to 5 months. All the 14 are right now at the pre-clinical trial stage."

'Covid-19 Cases to Surge from Migrant Influx, but We are Ready'

Vardhan also said that coronavirus cases will increase in different parts of the country till the migrant influx continues. However, he assured that the situation is being closely monitored and the country's health infrastructure is ready to handle the situation.

"If we have relaxed the lockdown and are sending lakhs of migrant workers to their destinations with confidence, that clearly indicates that we know our situation and are closely monitoring it. Our strategies are ready. We are testing migrant workers and quarantining them. I think for one to two weeks, the cases will increase till all of them reach their states. However, I want to say to people of this country that if the relaxations are used optimally with discipline, by following social distancing and hygiene, using masks etc, we will be able to restore normal life," the health minister said.

(With inputs from IANS)