NEW DELHI: The Union health ministry on Wednesday blamed travellers who attended a gathering at a Delhi mosque for the sudden spike in Covid-19 cases in the country.
Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the ministry, said 134 coronavirus cases were linked to the Tablighi Jamaat (TJ), the Islamic group which organised the gathering in mid-March. “There were 386 new Covid-19 cases since Tuesday — one of the main reasons for it is travel by members of the Tablighi Jamaat,” he said. “As many as 1,800 people related to the group have been sent to hospitals and quarantine centres,” he added. This was at around 4pm.
By late evening, when data from all states where TJ workers have been located started pouring in, the magnitude of the group’s role in the spread of the disease seemed to get even more serious.
It showed 348 (18%) out of total 1,976 Covid-19 cases identified across the country were linked to TJ. The number is likely go up further as test results of nearly 8,000 TJ followers and people who came in contact with them after the gathering at Nizamuddin mosque is still awaited. Also, government data shows, 16 people connected to the TJ meet — three foreigners and 13 Indians — have died in different states. Some of them have been confirmed positive for Covid-19 while the reports of others are awaited.
A Malaysian national who had attended the meet died at Delhi’s Rajiv Gandhi Super Specialty Hospital (RGSSH) on Wednesday. Hospital authorities claimed he had tested negative for Covid-19. Another TJ member, a 64-year-old man from Tamil Nadu, died at Lok Nayak Hospital three days ago. He has been found positive for Covid-19, sources said.
There were chaotic scenes at RGSSH on Tuesday where more than 100 of the TJ members are quarantined when one of them attempted to jump off the building. Some patients also turned aggressive, doctors said.
“One patient at RGSSH tried to jump to his death on Tuesday. He was saved by doctors. I had a word with the home secretary. We are making arrangements of police to provide security to doctors and patients,” CM Arvind Kejriwal
In Delhi, 2,346 TJ members and their contacts have been quarantined — 536 who are symptomatic have been admitted to hospitals and 1,810 have been shifted to quarantine centres. Of this, the latest report has confirmed, 53 have been found positive for Covid-19 which is 35% of the total Covid-19 cases identified in the state so far.
Tamil Nadu has witnessed an explosion of cases. Its numbers have touched 234, with 190 who attended the TJ conference testing positive. On Wednesday alone, 110 from the TJ cluster tested positive. On Tuesday, the state government had issued appeals, calling for the 300 pilgrims who had remained “untraceable”. At least 1,500 participated in the three-day conference from March 21.
The 190 who tested positive include the foreign missionaries who transited through TJ’s headquarters, said TN health secretary Beela Rajesh. “Many people came to the health facility as soon as we made an appeal on Tuesday. So far, 1,103 of 1,131 people have come for testing. They are in hospital isolation wards (across the state) and are being tested,” she said.
Andhra Pradesh has recorded 111 Covid-19 cases, of which 70 people are either TJ delegates or their contacts. While 358 people who had returned from foreign countries and their contacts were tested till Wednesday, more than 800 are yet to be tested. Jharkhand has launched a massive manhunt in all 24 districts to trace locals and foreigners who attended the three-day meet. The decision was taken after a 22-year-old Malaysian woman who participated in the markaz tested positive in Ranchi on Wednesday. The search operation was launched soon after the state police’s special branch circulated a list of 36 people believed to have attended the congregation.
Mohammad Tanvir Ansari, son of the state minority affairs minister Haji Hussain Ansari, has also been quarantine. Tanvir, however, said he did not attend the congregation. In Ramgarh district in Jharkhand, one participant was quarantined after he was traced in the Rajrappa coal project area. The man, police said, returned by Rajdhani Express to Ranchi on March 17. “He was on board the B-1 coach with a minor girl and travelled with the Malaysian woman who tested positive in Ranchi,” police said.
Rajasthan police have also identified 583 people in connection with the TJ meet. Out of these, 350 are from other states but currently staying in Rajasthan. There are five Nepalese too. According to the officials, all of them have been screened and the district magistrates concerned have been asked to decide if these people need to be home isolated or quarantined in medical facilities.
The count of people in Maharashtra who attended the congregation has gone up to more than 450. While 448 people have been identified in various parts of the state, several in Mumbai have been identified as well though officials did not reveal the exact numbers for the city. The numbers include Indians as well as foreign nationals who travelled after the Delhi meet to the state.
The Odisha government on Wednesday said they traced and placed under quarantine 17 more people who had returned to the state after having attended the event, taking the total to 20. This figure is expected to go up.
“All these persons attended the congregation at Nizamuddin Markaz. Of the 415 people from the state who took part in the gathering, 347 have returned home. The rest haven’t come back yet… some of them have gone to Jammu & Kashmir and Lucknow. A few others are still in New Delhi,” Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said.
Nine of the 10 cases reported in Andaman and Nicobar Islands is also linked to the TJ meet. “This one incident has brought India perilously close to a difficult situation. It can lead to community transmission also in some places, given the number of suspects in various regions,” said an official.
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