The number of confirmed Coronavirus cases rose recording a rise of a whopping 373 cases—an increase of 36.44 % in a day. The increase in cases is due to lack of people’s cooperation in maintaining lockdown protocol. In Delhi alone, 24 persons linked to the event tested positive today, setting off alarm bells over potential community cluster formations. The Delhi Government said out of those who attended the Nizamuddin gathering, 441 persons had been hospitalised with symptoms and were being tested.
The discovery of the hot spot at the six-storey building of the Tablighi Jamaat – called a markaz triggered alarm in several circles of the government: the Delhi Police filed an FIR against functionaries of the centre for flouting social distancing rules, roughly a dozen states sounded an alert, and the Union government began the process to blacklist 275 foreign nationals belonging to the sect who purportedly flouted visa rules by claiming to be tourists.
The largest cluster of cases that is linked to the mosque complex appears to be in the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. In Tamil Nadu, 50 of the 57 new Covid-19 cases confirmed on Tuesday had visited the complex earlier this month. At least 500 others were at the building and are being sought out. Delhi banned on March 13 any seminar or conference having more than 200 people. Three days later, it prohibited any form of religious, academic, political, social, cultural, personal gathering involving over 50 people, and then gradually tightened the curbs in subsequent orders.
Many states reported cases linked to people who had attended a Tablighi Jamaat’s event at Nizamuddin recently. Six deaths in Telangana and one in Kashmir involved people who had attended the Nizamuddin gathering.
The Jamaat, which issued a statement defending its actions earlier on Tuesday, said its centre known as a markaz – is routinely occupied by followers who come from pre-scheduled events, and that hundreds of them were stranded as the government gradually tightened its curbs on people’s movement to stop Covid-19 from spreading. Over the past three days, close to 2,000 people have been evacuated from the Tablighi Jamaat’s markaz building in Nizamuddin and 24 of them tested positive in New Delhi alone till Monday night, according to the health bulletin released by the government. At least 117 more who visited the complex have tested positive for Covid-19 across the country and close to 3,000 others are feared to have been exposed to the virus. According to health department officials, some of the people in the building may have tried to hide their symptoms such as fever by taking medication prior to being evacuated over the last two days.
According to a home ministry official asking not to be named, around 164 — including 146 foreign nationals — left the facility and are spread in other parts of the national capital. On March 13, the day the Delhi government banned gathering of more than 200 people in the city as one of the key measures to prevent the spread of the Sars-Cov-2 virus, which causes Covis-19, the Tablighi Jamaat — a Muslim missionary group — hosted a congregation of over 1,800 people in its premises, according to multiple people aware of the matter.
Those in attendance included preachers from across the country and several foreign nationals . The six-storey markaz building has residential rooms for guests, and can accommodate about 2,000 people. Even as some of the preachers left after March 13, other groups continued to pour in at the headquarters to participate in the programmes organised inside the building. The congregations continued till the evening of March 23, despite the Delhi government banning any form of religious events on March 16, further restricting gatherings to 50 people or below, and then 20 people of below (March 19), and the police issuing prohibitory orders under Section 144 across the city on March 22. The Tablighi Jamaat, in a press statement issued on Tuesday, said that the people who were inside the headquarters were trapped because of the March 25 lockdown. A senior government officer, however, dismissed this contention, saying the matter should have never reached that stage.
“By the first week of March, the coronavirus scare had already hit Delhi. Schools were ordered to close on March 6. For the first time, the Holi celebration was also cancelled by the state government. Even at the Resident Welfare Association (RWA) level, they had announced that Holi would not be celebrated. Advisories were issued by different departments. In that scenario, if the government issued order on March 13, the organisers of the mosque should have compiled. The impact of the damage would have been less,” said the official.
After the evacuation of over 200 foreigners from the building, police have found that several of them violated visa norms by coming to India on a tourist visa rather than the mandatory Missionaries visa.
A police officer who is probing the case said: “The government order was widely reported by the media but the organisers paid no heed. At that time, there was no lockdown. All airports, bus stations and the train services were open and yet they continued to gather inside the mosque.
The organisers should have asked their guests to vacate the headquarters and return to their home towns. It was their responsibility.” He asked not to be named. Police also said that on March 22, a day after the completion of the one-day “janta curfew” imposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, section 144 was imposed across the city, and the Jamaat officials were asked to shut the centre. Under section 144, gatherings of no more than four people are allowed.
“Section 144 was imposed across the city at 9 pm on March 22. The following day, the local police also sent them a letter to shut the headquarters but they did not act. While some 1,500 persons left the mosque on the morning of March 23, another group of around 1,500 preachers came to the mosque in the evening.
They group inside,” another senior officer said. The Tablighi Jamaat’s statement said that the Delhi government sealed the city’s borders starting 6am on March 23, ”diminishing any chances of these visitors availing road transport for their journey back home”. The statement added: “Despite this challenging situation, with the help of Markaz administration, around fifteen hundred visitors left Markaz Nizamuddin by availing whatever meagre transport was available. On the evening of 23rd March, a further nationwide lockdown was announced by the Prime Minister with clear message for people to stay-put wherever they are. Under such compelling circumstances there was no option for Markaz Nizamuddin but to accommodate the stranded visitors with prescribed medical precautions.”