In its biggest single-day spike, Punjab on Thursday reported 167 new COVID-19 cases, including 149 pilgrims who have recently returned from Nanded. The state’s total tally of novel coronavirus positive cases now stands at 542.
Amid rising number of returnee pilgrims testing positive in Punjab, Nanded administration on Thursday decided to test all the remaining pilgrims still stranded in the gurdwaras there.
Nanded-Waghala Municipal Corporation Commissioner Sunil Lahane told The Indian Express, “We have decided to conduct COVID-19 test of all remaining pilgrims stuck at Nanded and of all the local priests and sevadars at all the gurdwaras. Devotees from Punjab have almost left now. We are left with pilgrims from Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. They all will be tested for COVID-19. All the drivers returning from Punjab will be tested,” said Lahane.
There were more than 4,000 pilgrims who were stranded in various sarais and gurdwaras in Nanded before they started their journey back to Punjab, some in private vehicles they engaged and others in buses provided by Punjab government and Takht Hazur Sahib management.
As on Thursday, 3,525 pilgrims from Nanded and 153 students from Kota in Rajasthan had returned to Punjab in the last four days. In addition, 3,085 labourers had returned from Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. Test reports of around 500 pilgrims have been received yet. The government said out of these, 20 per cent were found positive.
Among the 149 pilgrims who tested positive in Punjab on Thursday were 38 from Ludhiana, 76 from Amritsar and 10 from Mohali. The other districts reporting positive cases of Nanded pilgrims were Tarn Taran (7), Kapurthala (6), Gurdaspur (3), Ropar (2), Sangrur (2) and one each in Nawanshahr, Jalandhar, Patiala, Ferozepur and Moga.
In three days after they started arriving back Punjab, a total of 183 pilgrims from Nanded have tested positive, accounting for 33.7 per cent of the total positive cases reported in Punjab.
Located in Maharashtra, which is worst-hit due to novel coronavirus, Nanded remained in green zone for 35 days before two cases were reported positive for coronavirus in the district following testing of 1,100 samples.
Lahane said, “We have only two cases so far. First case came to our notice on April 17. That patient was an old man from a village in Nanded with no travel history. His source of infection is still unknown. All his 65 contacts have tested negative. Second case was of a Sikh driver who had returned on April 24 after dropping some pilgrims in Punjab. He was tested for COVID-19 after his return from Punjab. His first test report was positive. His second report was negative and third time he was again tested positive. He has shown no symptoms so far.”
“We suspect that Sikh driver contracted infection from Indore in Madhya Pradesh during his Punjab visit. But we are not fully sure about this. We cannot say that Punjab pilgrims contracted infection from Nanded. They might have contracted infection on the way. So far, we have no evidence to say anything conclusively,” said Nanded Civil Surgeon Dr Nilkanth Bhosikar. He added: “We tested driver due to travel history. There were no guidelines for testing of stranded pilgrims. We were in green zone for 35 days.”
In a related development, SGPC president Gobind Singh Longowal on Thursday asked Punjab government to use gurdwara inns to quarantine all the Punjab pilgrims from Nanded. Longowal opposed the decision of Punjab government to quarantine some of the pilgrims in deras of a sect in Amritsar and Gurdaspur and said, “We have everything ready in gurdwaras. We will make pilgrims feel like home. Pilgrims are not happy with their stay in deras. They are calling me. They are living under open sheds there. We have rooms where pilgrims can maintain social distancing in better way. I will also talk to Punjab CM to shift devotees from deras to gurdwara inns.”
Longowal also said, “Vilification of the pilgrims should be stopped. Pilgrims were stuck for more than one month in Nanded and they were needed to be brought back to state. Some people are making hate comments on social media against pilgrims. They remained in quarantine in Nanded. Now they are again quarantined in Punjab. They have been following all the instructions from very first day. What is their mistake if some of them have tested positive for COVID-19 after taking all the precautions? We shouldn’t make pilgrims feel alienated.”
Akal Takht chief Giani Harpreet Singh also objected to alleged vilification and said, “I am afraid that Sikh pilgrims are being vilified in the same way as the Tablighi Jamaat followers were. It seems that entire community is being targeted. It is also questionable how come they tested positive after entering Punjab. They were repeatedly tested and were in good health for more than a month they spent in Nanded.” He too objected to use of deras instead of gurdwaras for quarantine of pilgrims.
Punjab has so far reported 20 deaths due to COVID 19. While 104 patients have recovered so far, there are 418 active cases in the state. Out of 22 districts in the state, 21 have so far reported coronavirus positive cases. Fazilka is the only district with no positive case so far.
With total 90 cases so far, Amritsar is the top hotspot in Punjab, followed by Jalandhar (89) and Ludhiana (77). In Ludhiana, a 35-year-old booked for drug peddling tested positive Thursday. She was tested before being sent to jail and is now being treated at the city’s Civil Hospital.
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