Punjab on Sunday saw its steepest rise in Covid-19 cases, with 331 more persons, mostly pilgrims returning from Nanded, testing positive for the novel coronavirus. Of the state’s tally of 1,102 cases, those who have returned from Nanded now account for 55.2% (609 cases).
Out of the 331 cases reported Sunday, 270 have links to Nanded, including 12 cotton factory workers who came back on the same buses as the pilgrims. The 12 belong to Nawanshahr, Punjab’s first hotspot, which has reported 85 cases till now.
Maharashtra and Punjab have been trading charges over the source of the infections among the Nanded pilgrims, around 4,000 of whom had been stuck at a Sikh shrine there since March due to the lockdown. Maharashtra has blamed drivers who came from Punjab to get them for the infection, saying the pilgrims had tested negative and were only then allowed to leave. The discovery of cases among the cotton workers, who also stayed with the pilgrims at the Gurdwara Langar Sahib for some days, is expected to broaden the tracing now.
Apart from them, two drivers who returned to Nanded from Punjab after dropping the pilgrims have now tested positive. “This morning, three persons tested positive for coronavirus. Out of them, two are drivers who returned from Punjab after providing a vehicle service,” Nanded’s Civil Surgeon Dr Neelkanth Bhosikar said.
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“Now, the number of Covid-19 patients who returned to Nanded from Punjab has gone up to five,” a district official said.
On Saturday, 20 pilgrims still at the Nanded shrine, Gurdwara Langar Sahib, tested positive.
Local Nawanshar leaders had reached out to the workers belonging to the area to get to Nanded to board the buses returning to Punjab with the Sikh pilgrims. Around 700 workers and traders from Punjab are believed to be stranded in various parts of Maharashtra, and 50-odd of them took the buses.
Akali Dal leader Brigadier (retd) Raj Kumar, who was among those who informed the workers about the buses, confirmed that nearly 50 had returned to Nawanshahr along with the pilgrims.
One of the workers who has tested positive and is now in Nawanshahr said, “I had gone to the Marathwada region for work. I got in touch with leaders in Nawanshahr, who informed me about the buses being arranged from Nanded.”
The 26-year-old said other workers too had come to the Nanded gurdwara, hiring taxies or taking lift in trucks, hoping to get home.
Another patient, a 44-year-old worker, said he had been stuck at Beed district and reached Nanded on April 25 after taking lift from several persons.
On Sunday, Punjab’s coronavirus toll rose by three to 23. A 48-year-old tested positive for Covid after his death in Ferozepur, while the other two deaths were reported from Ludhiana.
Amritsar has the most number of coronavirus cases in the state (218), followed by Jalandhar (124) and Ludhiana (111).