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Thursday Apr 02 2020
By
Reuters
,
Web Desk

Mosques combed to trace contacts as Tableeghi Jamaat a new virus hotspot in India, Pakistan

By
Reuters
,
Web Desk
Men wearing protective masks walk as they carry bags amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Nizamuddin area of New Delhi, India, March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

NEW DELHI: Authorities on Wednesday combed through mosques in the Indian capital trying to trace people who attended the Tableeghi Jamaat gathering as the event on either side of the border emerged as new coronavirus hotspot across densely-populated South Asia, putting Pakistani officials, too, in a pickle to contain the pandemic.

The development came a day after police put Raiwind city in Pakistan's Punjab under quarantine and shut down all general and medical stores, with over 2,200 people of the Tableeghi Jamaat present in the gathering.

Shortly thereafter, Sindh's top police official had ordered the Tableeghi Jamaat participants be quarantined wherever they were and designated their marakiz, or centres, as quarantine facilities since they were spread out in several districts of the province.

Read more: Raiwind locked down after 27 in religious gathering test positive

Thousands of people from across India, as well as some from countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, had participated in the missionary movement Tableeghi Jamaat in a narrow winding Delhi lane last month, joining prayer sessions and lectures over several days, as similar gatherings occurred in Kuala Lumpur and Pakistan's Raiwind.

With no public transportation and all movement stopped due to a nationwide lockdown, thousands of people had been stranded inside the Tableeghi Jamaat dormitories after the meeting ended while others had left the city, the administrators said.

'Surrender themselves wherever they are'

Delhi’s Health Minister Satyendra Jain said 2,335 people were taken out of the centre and its mosque over a 36-hour period that ended Wednesday.

"They have been sent to quarantine centres, others who showed symptoms are in hospitals,” Jain added.

Also read: Quarantine Tableeghi Jamaat members wherever they are, IG Sindh tells police

Television images on Wednesday showed health officials in protective gear escorting people out of mosques in Uttar Pradesh as the search for the people who attended and whoever they came in contact with progressed.

"We are asking all these people who attended the meeting to surrender themselves wherever they are in the country, if they are in mosques they must inform officials so they can be taken and put into quarantine,” Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia said.

India has had 1,397 cases of coronavirus, of which 35 have died, as per latest figures from the health ministry — still a small number compared with the United States, Italy, and Spain.

Related: Palestinian coronavirus patients attended religious gathering in Pakistan last month

At least 128 cases have been tied to Tableeghi Jamaat and seven of these have died, making it the first big cluster since infections began spreading in the world’s second most-populous country last month.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed a 21-day lockdown that will end in mid-April in a desperate bid to stave off an epidemic among India’s 1.3 billion people.

With hundreds of millions living in cramped, unhygienic conditions, there are fears that India’s fragile health system could be easily overwhelmed if the coronavirus takes root. But the world’s largest shutdown has left millions of economically vulnerable people jobless and led to a mass exodus from the cities to the countryside.

South Asia surge expected

With one-fifth of the world’s population, millions of whom live on the edge of poverty, South Asia could see a surge of cases, health experts say. Pakistan had 2,222 people infected with the virus after a jump of more than 200 cases on Wednesday, government statistic showed.

Most of the new cases were related to a Pakistani branch of Tableeghi Jamaat, which curtailed its Raiwind meeting at the last minute because of fear of the virus but, by then, hundreds had already landed up at its centre in the eastern city.

Read more: Malaysia says Islamic event linked to virus cases, days after 250,000 gathered in Pakistan

"The last 24 hours has seen a substantial increase in suspected patients,” Special Assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan on Health Dr Zafar Mirza told reporters.

Bangladesh said it had lost a sixth person to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus while the number of confirmed cases stood at 54.


Following is data on the spread of the coronavirus in South Asia’s eight countries, according to government figures:

• Pakistan — 2,222 cases and 28 deaths.

• India — 1,251 cases and 32 deaths.

• Sri Lanka — 132 cases and two deaths.

• Afghanistan — 196 cases and four deaths.

• Bangladesh — 54 cases and six deaths.

• Maldives — 28 cases and no deaths.

• Nepal — five cases and no deaths.

• Bhutan — four cases and no deaths.