The headquarters of a religious sect in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area has emerged as one of the biggest coronavirus disease (Covid-19) hot spots in India with 24 people testing positive and nearly 200 others showing symptoms on Monday when officials began evacuating the six-storey building of some 1,400 people who are believed to have been exposed to the virus.
The building belongs to the Tablighi Jamaat, an evangelical Muslim sect that hosted this month its annual congregation with attendees coming in from several foreign nations such as Indonesia and Malaysia before they spread out to other parts of the country such as Kashmir and Andhra Pradesh, creating a web of close contacts that now threatens to create an explosion of cases in the country.
“There are several foreign travellers who visit the complex for gatherings and prayer. We suspect the infection was first brought in by them,” said a senior health department official, asking not to be named.
The first indications of the site being a source of the disease came in the middle of last week when officials in four regions – Andaman, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Kashmir – began working back the travel histories of patients who tested positive there.
Eight of these people, including seven who went to Hyderabad and one who went to Srinagar, have succumbed to the disease. The Hyderabad deaths took place on Monday.
All of them had been to the building in Nizamuddin – also referred to as a markaz — which shares a boundary with the police station and is close to the famous Nizamuddin Auliya shrine.
Shortly after, the district surveillance officer went to the area to screen people for symptoms and collect their samples. “Yesterday we got back the reports and six people had tested positive. Now our officers are there screening everyone in the area, anyone with symptoms is being taken to various hospitals. The operation will go on all night long,” said Dr Nutan Mundeja, Delhi’s director general of health services.
As officials began clearing the building slowly, the number of people showing symptoms for Covid-19 had risen to 188 by Monday evening and authorities expected around 300 more with a cough, fever or respiratory distress.
Till now, the most serious instances of the disease spread in India have been in large local clusters — such as the groups infected in Rajasthan’s Bhilwara, Maharashtra’s Sangli and in Punjab’s Banga. The patients linked to the Tablighi Jamaat have fanned out across the country, in some instances infecting locals, raising the spectre of having triggered community transmission.
The outbreak prompted the Arvind Kejriwal government to ask the Delhi Police to register an FIR against the head of the markaz. “A lockdown was imposed in entire India on March 24 and it was the duty of every owner and administrator of every hotel, guesthouse, hostel and similar establishment to maintain social distancing. It looks like social distancing and quarantine protocols were not practiced here,” said a statement by the government.
A hostel-like complex, the building has six floors with accommodations for up to 2,000 people on the upper floors, with the basement and the ground housing a kitchen and a communal dining area. Officials fear that such a nature of the facility may have made the spread of the virus easier.
The 18 patients confirmed on Monday include people from Indonesia, Nepal, and the Indian regions of Kashmir, Assam, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.
The Tablighi Jamaat, a sect of preachers that travels across the world to encourage other Muslims to follow the faith, traces its origins in UP and has several chapters outside of the country. The biggest outside India is in Pakistan’s Raiwind, where the congregation this month was linked to at least 30 infections.
A more serious spread from a sect’s gathering was reported from Malaysia, where at least 500 from the nearly 16,000 who gathered for the four-day event starting on Feb 27 at the Sri Petaling mosque compound, according to a New York Times report. Three days later, they dispersed to other countries, including India, Pakistan and Indonesia – the three other prominent countries where the sect was next scheduled to hold congregations.
According to a Delhi Police official, the foreign arrivals for the Nizamuddin congregation began on March 10.
On Monday, police cordoned off roads leading to the Nizamuddin area near the police station. “The whole city is under lockdown. Now with some cases of people showing symptoms of Covid-19 reported from Nizamuddin area, we have posted more police personnel at the market places and the lanes to ensure that people follow the lockdown. Our officers on the ground are also helping the government officers in Nizamuddin basti area,” said deputy commissioner of police (south east) RP Meena.
Several of the confirmed Covid-19 patients linked to the Nizamuddin building covered vast distances, taking trains and flights, after they likely became infected and were potentially passing it on to others. The six who died in Hyderabad were, for instance, in a group including 10 Indonesians who started showing symptoms around March 18. Disease surveillance officials traced their travel history back to Delhi through a train journey and found that they took part in several religious events and stayed at a local madarsa in the Telangana city.
Published at Tue, 31 Mar 2020 08:46:55 +0000