Five Indian nationals, who had tested positive for COVID-19 in Telangana died on Monday. On the same day, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Edappadi K Palaniswami announced 17 positive cases of coronavirus in the state, of which 10 were from Erode district.
It all began on 16 March, when a group of 10 Indonesians were rushed to the isolation ward at Hyderabad's Gandhi Hospital, after one of them showed symptoms of COVID-19. While one of them tested positive on 17 March, seven others were confirmed to have COVID-19 on 18 March.
Exactly, four days later, the Tamil Nadu government confirmed that two Thailand nationals – labelled Patient 5 and Patient 6 – tested positive for coronavirus.
What’s common between these south asians who have contracted the disease in India, is that all of them attended a huge gathering in Delhi before they travelled south – a conference of Islamic preachers belonging to the Tablighi Jamaat, at a mosque in Nizamuddin in Delhi on 8, 9 and 10 March.
It is not just in Tamil Nadu and Telangana, but in Delhi as well, six persons who have been admitted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Jhajjar had attended the Tablighi Jamaat gathering in Nizamuddin.
According to a press statement from the government of Tamil Nadu, there were around 1,500 people from Tamil Nadu alone at this conference; many of the participants have travelled to different parts of India following the meet.
Reports say that 200 people in Delhi who attended the conference are showing symptoms, and have been placed in isolation.
While the Indonesians in Telangana have been identified as the central point of the spread in Karimnagar area, in Erode, the COVID-19 cluster has radiated from the Thai nationals who tested positive.
The Meeting in Early March
The Tablighi Jamaat is an Islamic revivalist organisation that focuses on reviving the faith of Muslims in the religion. One of the main focuses of this group is to conduct meetings with Muslims, and urge them to return to the basic tenets of the Islamic faith.
The Jamaat conference in Delhi was attended by hundreds of Indians and foreign nationals, according to some reports.
Following the meeting, the Indian participants returned to their respective home states – along with a handful of foreign preachers who had planned to work with the mosques in Erode, Karimnagar and other places.
Almost 50 preachers from Indonesia, Thailand and Kyrgyzstan who attended the conference in Delhi, dispersed to work with mosques in many districts including Chennai. Kancheepuram and Thanjavur.
The Erode Cluster
The Erode group arrived in the city on 11 March from New Delhi. According to the Erode District Collector C Kathiravan, 33 people from the district had attended the Jamaat conference in Delhi.
Erode district in western Tamil Nadu is known for its bedspreads and turmeric.
As of 30 March, it has 19 out of Tamil Nadu’s 67 COVID-19 cases. After the first person – Patient 5 – tested positive, within days, all of them were isolated in hospitals and 17 others have also tested positive.
All the 19 persons who are now undergoing treatment in IRT Medical College Hospital, Perundurai had come in contact with the Thai nationals – Patients 5 and 6 – directly or indirectly.
“The entire group had stayed and visited three mosques in Erode after they had reached here,” another officer said on the condition of anonymity.
The Spread to Coimbatore, Madurai, Salem
Further, four contacts (one primary) of Patient 5 and Patient 6 in Coimbatore, have also tested positive.
But it was the death of a 54-year-old man, who was undergoing treatment for COVID-19 in Madurai Rajaji Government Hospital on 25 March, that raised concerns among health department officials that the meeting in Delhi could have been the epicentre of the spread.
The deceased had also attended the conference, according to some sources, and had met the Thai nationals in Delhi.
While the Thai nationals reached Erode with a group of Indians, the Madurai man had returned to his residence on 12 March. Three of his family members have also been tested positive for COVID-19 and are under treatment in Madurai Rajaji Government Hospital.
In Salem meanwhile, four out of 11 people who attended the conference – all of them Indonesian nationals – have tested positive for coronavirus, and so has a tour guide who was showing them around the city.
The remaining seven people in the group are in isolation.
A statement from the government of Tamil Nadu states that around 1500 people from the state attended the conference,of which the state Health Department has traced 981 of them.
Officials in Madurai, Salem and Erode have been scrambling to trace more people who had attended the gathering at Delhi, screening and quarantining them and their contacts.
In Erode town, nine streets have been closed off since 24 March. Over 130 families in and around the mosques are under home quarantine.
The Collector also said that since Sunday, containment measures have been implemented in certain pockets of the district, where these 33 people stayed and moved around.
The Karimnagar Cluster
Meanwhile, in Telangana, a total of nine Indonesians and one close contact from Karimnagar district have tested positive till now. The Telangana state government has now implemented a cluster containment plan.
As per the plan, they are screening everyone who lives within a three-kilometre radius of the mosque where the Indonesian group stayed for two days.
Over 25,000 people have been screened in the operation carried out by 100 teams of health workers; however, so far no one has shown symptoms of COVID-19 according to reports.
On Monday, two more new cases of COVID-19 have been reported from the same group of Indonesians who are already under quarantine.
One Death in Karnataka
A 65-year-old man from Tumakuru died on 27 March, and was confirmed to have been COVID-19 positive. He too had reached Hazrat Nizamuddin Station in New Delhi on 7 March and attended the conference
(This article has been published in an arrangement with The News Minute.)
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