By SM.31 Mar, 2020
NEW DELHI: Twenty-four people in Delhi have tested positive for coronavirus and more cases may be confirmed after a religious gathering at a mosque in the Nizamuddin area, which has been linked to seven COVID-19 deaths. Close to 2,000 people had been staying at "Markaz Nizamuddin", the Delhi headquarters of the Tablighi Jamaat group. More than 300 were moved to hospitals yesterday with symptoms of the highly contagious virus. This morning, the Markaz Nizamuddin was sealed and 700 people moved out in buses are quarantined in different parts of the city. A police case has been filed against the mosque administration.
"So far, 24 people staying there have been found to be coronavirus positive," Delhi Health Minister Satyendra Jain said. "The organisers committed a grave crime, we have asked the Lieutenant-Governor for toughest action," said the minister.
Contact tracing from the gathering, which has been identified as a virus hotspot, has been given high priority by the home ministry, according to sources. Home Minister Amit Shah is being briefed daily about the developing situation.
Ignoring all social distancing rules to avoid the deadly coronavirus, hundreds had been staying in the 100-year-old mosque complex, which has a six-floor dormitory, since the two-day gathering of the Tablighi Jamaat from March 8 to 10. Some 280 were foreigners.
Six people have died in Telangana and one man died in Srinagar. Ten more, who returned to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, have tested positive. More than 100 people from Kashmir attended the gathering and a massive exercise is on to track them down.
The Tablighi Jamaat is an Islamic missionary movement set up in 1926, with members across the world. The gathering, which featured sermons, was attended by Tablighi members from Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Nepal, Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan and Saudi Arabia. Members had also come from Afghanistan, Algeria, Djibouti, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, England, Fiji, France and Kuwait.
300 foreigners who were on tourist visa and so, attended the event illegally, face blacklisting.
Many of those who attended then travelled to other parts of the country. The Srinagar preacher who died last week had visited the Deoband seminary in Uttar Pradesh and on his return to Kashmir, held multiple gatherings.
Tablighi members reportedly told the police about the congregation on March 24. At the time, there were around 1,200 people inside the mosque complex. A day later, they were taken to the airport by the police. But on March 26, two days into the national lockdown ordered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, people started gathering again at the mosque. There were close 2,000 by the time the police found out.
In a statement, Markaz Nizamuddin defended itself saying the event was cancelled when PM Modi announced the "Janata Curfew" for March 22. Members could not leave, it said, because trains were suddenly stopped. After that, it said, lockdowns ordered first by the Delhi government and then by the PM left the visitors stranded in the Markaz. However, officials point out that long before the lockdowns, the Delhi government had called for suspending all gatherings, religious, cultural or social.
Similar Tablighi Jamaat gatherings held in February-March have been linked to virus cases in countries like Malaysia and Pakistan.