The connection between a Tablighi Jamaat congregation at Nizamuddin in New Delhi and the spread of COVID-19 first emerged on March 17, after a case was detected in Telangana. However, it was only by March 21 that the Home Ministry (MHA) was able to draw up a list of over 800 foreigners associated with Tablighi activities across the country.
“Information about a Tablighi-associated COVID patient in Telangana first came to us on March 18. An Indonesian who attended the conference at Nizamuddin and travelled to Telangana tested positive on March 17. From the next day, intelligence agencies and the Ministry began tracing all foreigners associated with the Talighi Jamaat in various parts of the country,” an MHA official said.
According to the Ministry, as of March 21, more than 1,000 Tablighi workers of foreign nationalities were in India. Of these, 216 were staying in Nizamuddin Markaz, the epicentre of the spread associated with the Tablighi Jamaat congregation.
“Additionally, about 824 foreigners had been, as on March 21, doing Chilla (proselytising) activities in various parts of the country… Details of these 824 foreigners had been shared on March 21 with the State Police for identifying them, getting them medically screened and quarantining them,” the Ministry said in a statement.
It added that as on March 21, some 1,746 persons were staying at the Hazrat Nizamuddin Markaz. It is not clear what action was taken between March 18 and 21 to screen these people, or to get the Markaz vacated. The Delhi government had on March 13 issued orders banning assembly of more than 200 people for any kind of “sports activity or seminars”.
Interestingly, medical screening of those at the Markaz started only on March 26, after the death of a Tablighi-associated COVID-19 patient was reported from Telangana.
According to the MHA, nationals of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Kyrgyzstan generally come for proselytising activities of the Tablighi Jamaat to India. They normally report their arrival at the Tabligh Markaz at Banglewali Mosque in Nizamuddin, from where they are detailed for Chilla activities to different parts of the country.
Apart from the March 21 missive to states, the MHA has claimed, on March 28, state police were advised to collect the names of Indian Tablighi Jamaat workers from the local coordinators, locate them on the ground, get them medically screened, and quarantine them. “So far, about 2,137 such persons have been identified in different States…,” the MHA statement said.
Markaz residents were being screened from March 26 onward, the MHA said. “So far 1,203 Tablighi Jamaat workers have been medically screened. (As many as) 303 of them had symptoms of COVID-19 and were referred to different hospitals in Delhi. Rest of them have been moved to different quarantine centres.”
According to an MHA estimate, since January 1, about 2,100 foreigners arrived in India for Tablighi activities. Many left before the lockdown, but over 1,000 stayed on.
“Bureau of Immigration has been sharing (since February 1) with State authorities, details of all international arrivals from affected countries based on Self Declaration Form filled in by them. In addition, since March 6, Bureau of Immigration had also been sharing details of all the international arrivals (both Indians and foreigners) at all the international airports in the country…,” the MHA statement said.
According to MHA figures as on March 21, among the Tablighi foreigners who fanned out across the country, most (125) went to Tamil Nadu, followed by Uttar Pradesh (132), Haryana and Maharashtra (115 each), and Telangana (82).
In its March 28 letter, MHA said that about 2,000 foreigners of Tablighi association from 70 countries were in different parts of India on tourist visas valid for six months. Most of these foreigners are from Bangladesh (493), Indonesia (472), Malaysia (150), and Thaliland (142).
Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said, “All those who have travelled to India on tourist visas recently and have violated visa conditions will be proceeded against legally. This includes being blacklisted.”
Here’s a quick Coronavirus guide from Express Explained to keep you updated: What can cause a COVID-19 patient to relapse after recovery? | COVID-19 lockdown has cleaned up the air, but this may not be good news. Here’s why | Can alternative medicine work against the coronavirus? | A five-minute test for COVID-19 has been readied, India may get it too | How India is building up defence during lockdown | Why only a fraction of those with coronavirus suffer acutely | How do healthcare workers protect themselves from getting infected? | What does it take to set up isolation wards?
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines