Congress leader and Maharashtra PWD minister Ashok Chavan on Saturday said that it was possible that drivers, who had ferried pilgrims from a gurdwara in Nanded in Maharashtra to Punjab in buses, might have spread coronavirus infection among them. On Saturday, as many as 20 sewadars of Gurdwara Shri Langar Sahib in Nanded, where stranded pilgrims from Punjab had stayed during the lockdown, also tested positive for coronavirus.
During a Facebook Live session, Chavan said: “The drivers from Punjab, who came to Nanded and took the pilgrims back, might have got infected during their journey. These drivers might have also carried the infection to the gurdwara in Nanded and also among the pilgrims during the return journey.”
An MLA from the district, Chavan is also the Guardian Minister of Nanded, which houses Gurdwara Langar Sahib and Gurdwara Hazur Sahib.
Chavan said a total of 78 buses with two drivers each had reached Nanded on April 26 and the drivers stayed here for two days. “They ate food in ‘langar’ (community kitchen). There is a possibility that the infection spread then,” he added.
About the possibility of the infection originating in Nanded, Chavan said: “None of the pilgrims had complained about COVID-19 like symptoms earlier during their stay at the gurdwara. Had any such complaint been made, treatment would have been provided to them immediately.”
Nanded authorities too claimed that the pilgrims picked up the infection during their travel back to Punjab, which took them through cities such as Indore and Bhilwara, which have reported a large number of COVID-19 cases.
District authorities pointed out that the pilgrims had been screened four times during their stay and they had not shown any signs of infection. They also claimed that the pilgrims had been screened before they boarded the buses. The number of COVID-19 cases in Nanded, which had reported six patients and two deaths till now, rose to 26 on Saturday.
After 20 sewadars of Gurdwara Shri Langar Sahib tested positive Saturday, district authorities sealed off the area near the gurdwara and started the process of tracing high-risk contacts of those infected.
BJP MP from Nanded Pratap Patil Chikhalihar said the rise in the number of cases was a cause of worry for district authorities. “I am coordinating with authorities about the situation and have kept a very close watch on it,” he said.
Samples of the sewadars, those who serve in the shrine, were taken after Nanded pilgrims had started testing positive after reaching back Punjab.
Meanwhile, the SGPC on Saturday asked the Punjab CM to shift Nanded returnees to gurdwara inns instead of housing them at quarantine facilities created inside deras.
With inputs from PTI