New Delhi: Authorities launched a nationwide search on Tuesday for participants of a huge religious gathering held earlier this month in south Delhi's Nizamuddin area, which has become the new epicentre of the deadly virus pandemic amid fears that thousands who attened it could have carried the infection across India.
Thousands of participants of the Tablighi Jamaat held earlier this month in Nizamuddin, which is also home to a famous Dargah, reportedly returned to their homes in virtually every state, including Telangana, West Bengal, Karnataka and Gujarat. Many of these states have reported COVID-19 cases linked to this congregation.
Several fresh cases of infection were reported on Tuesday from Delhi, Maharashtra, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir and Bihar, among other places, taking the nationwide tally past 1,400 with at least 45 deaths, as per figures announced by government officials in different states.
However, a consolidated official tally announced on Tuesday night by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare put the total number of confirmed cases at 1,397 and 35 deaths, marking an increase of 146 positive cases and three deaths since Monday — two in Punjab and one in Maharashtra.
But this data apparently did not include six deaths reported by the Telangana government on Monday night, all of whom had attended the Nizamuddin congregation.
While the Health Ministry's tally put the total number of confirmed cases in Tamil Nadu at 74, the state government put its aggregate number at 124, with at least 77 of them having links to the Tablighi Jamaat.
For Maharashtra too, the Centre's tally was 216, but state government officials put the figure at 302, with an increase of 82 in a day.
In Delhi, more than 1,100 people who attended the congregation have been quarantined while at least 441 have been hospitalised. The government is screening all those who participated in the event, officials said.
At least 24 people who took part in the religious congregation have tested positive for coronavirus in the national capital, said Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, slamming the organisers for being "highly irresponsible" on their part to hold such an event at a time when thousands have died in other countries due to the pandemic.
The Union Home Ministry said approximately 2,100 foreigners visited India for 'tabligh' activities this year, including those from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Kyrgyzstan. It said all state police have been asked to locate Indian Tabligh Jamaat workers from local coordinators, followed by their medical screening and quarantine.
So far, 2,137 such people have been identified and are being medically examined and quarantined, while more would be located, it added.
States ramp up efforts to locate participants
The Delhi Police Special Branch on Tuesday wrote to the city government seeking immediate action with regard to people, including foreign nationals, who stayed in 16 mosques in the national capital after participating in the meet at Nizamuddin, said officials.
A statement said there were 157 such people — 94 from Indonesia, 13 from Kyrgyzstan, nine from Bangladesh, eight from Malaysia, seven from Algeria and one each from Tunisia, Belgium and Italy. The remaining are Indian nationals. It said they were staying in mosques in South East, North East and other districts in the city.
"A team of district administration, police and health department is visiting mosques and evacuating foreign nationals and shifting them to quarantine. They were part of Markaz and to decongest the building they had been shifted to various mosques in the national capital," said a police officer.
No social distancing would be possible at those places. It may cause grave danger to public health and the objective of containing COVID-19, said the communique.
Other state governments, including West Bengal, Assam and Manipur, said they are taking steps to locate participants of the Nizamuddin event.
Karnataka said 54 people from the state had attended the event, of which 13 have been identified but they have tested negative for COVID-19.
Gujarat police also launched a probe to identify all the attendees from the state and said primary investigations have revealed a few people from Bhavnagar had attended.
At least 17 people from Himachal Pradesh also attended the congregation, a state police spokesperson said.
A Srinagar-based businessman is being seen as the "super-spreader" in this entire case as he travelled by air, train and road to Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and back to Jammu and Kashmir before he died of COVID-19 on March 26, raising fears he may have infected many others along the way, officials said on Tuesday.
Six people in Telangana who attended the meeting in the city's Nizamuddin West area also died on Monday.
(With inputs from PTI)