Parts of Nizamuddin West were cordoned off after six new cases were traced to the area. (Express Photo by Anil Sharma))
The Filipino national who had tested positive for COVID-19 on March 13 in Navi Mumbai, and died 10 days later of kidney failure, had visited the Tablighi Jamaat Markaz at Delhi's Nizamuddin in the first week of March.
The 68-year-old man had stayed at a mosque in Vashi. Three days after he and two other Filipinos in their group of nine tested positive and were admitted to a hospital in Mumbai, the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation's (NMMC) health department notified the Maharashtra government, the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), and the state police on March 16 about the cases, and the travel history of the three patients, including the fact that they had taken a train from Delhi to Mumbai.
However, it was only on Monday, as the Delhi Tablighi Jamaat Markaz emerged as a hotspot that the state government swung into action, and asked all district collectors to put together a list of all those from Maharashtra who visited the gathering.
The state police, which was sent directions from the Union Home Ministry on March 28 to trace all participants in the Delhi congregation, began the task on Tuesday.
Besides the Filipino nationals, two other foreigners, who had come to Maharashtra after attending the congregation in Delhi, and were staying in local mosques, have tested positive. One is from Ivory Coast, and a second, an NRI from France, tested positive in Ahmednagar, District Collector Rahul Dwivedi said. On Tuesday, three residents of Jamkhed tehsil in Ahmednagar, who were in touch with these two foreigners, also tested positive, said District Civic Surgeon Dr Pradeep Murambikar.
In the case of the Filipino nationals, NMMC officials sanitised the Vashi mosque where they had stayed and conducted contact tracing on March 24. In that exercise, an office-bearer of the mosque and three of his family members were found COVID-19 positive. Yet another contact tested positive on March 30.
Police and district officials said that they do not have an exact count of Tablighis from Maharashtra who might have visited the Nizamuddin centre in March but are reaching out to community leaders to ensure voluntary disclosure of the information. However, two Maharashtra Tablighi members who had traveled to Malaysia have tested positive. While one of them is in a quarantine facility of a private hospital, another is at Kasturba Hospital in Mumbai. Another person, who had also traveled as part of a Jamaat, has tested negative.
"We do not have a precise number of people who went to the Delhi Markaz during the specified time. I am using my network to tell all those who have gone there to voluntarily come forward and get themselves tested. We are looking into this issue seriously and hope to trace all," Minority Affairs Minister Nawab Malik said.
Members of the Jamaat are still gathering details of those who attended the event. They said that the number of people who could have gone to the centre from Maharashtra may not have exceeded 40.
“The markaz in Delhi holds programmes throughout the year. On March 7 to March 9, there was an aalmi mushavra or a discussion with experts, which may have been attended by over 40 people from Maharashtra. But subsequent to that, between March 13-15, there was no specific involvement of any chapters of the community from the state,” said a member.
As of now, there seem to be more foreigners from Maharashtra who attended the Delhi congregation. It is estimated that from January 1, approximately 2,100 foreign national who are Tablighi Jamaat members, have come to India.
The nine-member Filipino group landed in Delhi on March 3 via Malaysia, spent time between March 3-8 at the Delhi markaz before taking a train to Mumbai on March 9. They were accompanied by an Indian national from Hyderabad. They arrived in Mumbai on March 10 and were staying in the mosque in Vashi.
After the 68 year old and two others in this group tested positive, the remaining six members, who tested negative, returned to Delhi.
The three infected persons were admitted to Kasturba Hospital. The 68 year old was shown to be negative in two subsequent tests and was moved to a private hospital, where he passed away on March 23. Based on a no objection certificate taken from his family members and the Philippines embassy, his body was buried by BMC officials on March 24.
The two other Filipino nationals, who had tested positive, have since been discharged from Kasturba hospital after testing negative. They, along with the Hyderabad national, who had earlier tested negative, continue to remain in quarantine.
Dr Balasaheb Sonawane, medical officer in NMMC, said he had informed the NCDC about these cases. “We informed them about the train journey the group took, and about whatever details the group gave us of their whereabouts in Delhi. The centre is supposed to share this information in Delhi at the local level. We simultaneously informed the state government,” Sonawane said.
Dr Ujwala Oturkar, heading the NMMC health department, said an email was sent to NCDC, state government and police on March 16 alerting them about the group’s travel.
The Ahmednagar duo – Ivory Coast national and French NRI – meanwhile, had arrived in Delhi on January 4 in a group of nine persons via Mauritius. “From Delhi, they travelled to Chennai and back, then to Mumbai and back to Delhi. They were later joined by two others from the same Jamaat, one from Tamil Nadu and one from Mumbai on March 13,” said the Ahmednagar district collector.
The group came to Ahmednagar on March 16, he added. “The group (in the age group of 30 to 50 years) left Delhi on March 14, travelled in two trains and reached Ahmednagar city on March 16 where they stayed at the Markat Masjid for a day before heading for Jamkhed tehsil (Ahmednagar). The group of 14 people included three from East Africa, six from Ivory Coast (West Africa), an NRI from France and one from Iran. The two from Tamil Nadu and one from Mumbai joined them in Delhi,” Dwivedi said.
So far, the administration has traced 68 of their contacts in Ahmednagar. Six were found infected, of which one has recovered. Three are from Jamkhed who were their close contacts.
Ahmednagar Police got to know about the group on March 25, when they received information that some people were offering namaz at the Kazi Masjid at Jamkhed. A team reached the spot and found that 14 people had gathered at the mosque despite the lockdown.
Police have lodged an offence against three trustees of Kazi Masjid under IPC for violation of government orders. As the foreign nationals came to India on tourist visas, police said they were investigating if their participation in religious activities constituted a violation of visa norms.
On March 30, a similar offence was lodged against two trustees of a masjid in Nevasa town in Ahmednagar. Police said 10 foreign nationals hailing from Djibouti, Ghana, Benin and other countries were found residing at the spot. Inspector Ranjit Dere of Nevasa police said all foreign nationals found at the spot were sent to a hospital in Ahmednagar for tests. The local residents they came in contact with are also being checked.
In another case, 11 foreigners from Turkey were found at a mosque in Tukum area of Chandrapur on March 25. “There were 14 religious people, including 11 from Turkey and three Indians from Tamil Nadu, Assam and Delhi. They came to Chandrapur from Delhi on March 3 and had been residing here since then. They had tourist visas... all have been taken for tests,” said Inspector Prakash Hake of Ramnagar police.
The police believe these 11 foreigners are also linked to Tablighi Jamaat, but they are not known to have participated in the Jamaat’s religious programme in Delhi in the first week of March. Sources said the Jamaat has active centres in Maharashtra, with its network spread across Navi Mumbai, Mumbai, Ahmednagar, Aurangabad and other cities.
A senior police officer said, "We are coordinating with local authorities and members of the community to compile the list of those who visited the markaz.”
(With inputs from SADAF MODAK, TABASSUM BARNAGARWALA, CHANDAN HAYGUNDE, SUSHANT KULKARNI & ANURADHA MASCARENHAS)