Thursday, April 02, 2020

COVID-19: Search for 41,000 Tableeghi Jamaat members underway

To trace the men, 5,200 teams — each comprising eight members — have been spread out across the country

A man wearing a protective mask walks towards a bus, March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/Files

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani authorities are trying to track down some 41,000 people who attended a large religious congregation in Lahore last month and then scattered across the country.

Of the thousands who attended the Tableeghi Jamaat’s annual five-day congregation in Lahore’s Raiwind area, several later tested positive for coronavirus. Authorities are now on the lookout for the rest of the attendees to screen and test them.

"41 people at the Tableeghi Markaz in Lahore alone have tested positive till now,” a senior official associated with the National Command and Control Center (NCCC) told on the condition of anonymity. "We fear that nearly 10,000 more people in 60 cities may also have symptoms.”

To trace the men, 5,200 teams — each comprising eight members — have been spread out across the country to comb through mosques.

Close to 4,500 people who attended the congregation were foreigners from 26 different countries. Officials revealed that 70% of these people have already returned to their homelands.

The annual congregation was to be held March 10-15 despite warnings from the Punjab government to call it off in the wake of the pandemic. However, attendees still gathered at the Raiwind complex for two days before the event was called off, an official explained.

94 test positive in Sindh

In Sindh, the test results of 221 Jamaat workers have arrived, with 94 testing positive, provincial government spokesperson, Senator Murtaza Wahab, told The results of as many as 15 are still pending.

At least 453 foreigners who arrived in the Sindh province to attend the congregation in Lahore are being kept in isolation centers across the province, official data revealed.

The foreigners from China, Indonesia, Tunis, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Turkey, and other countries are being quarantined in mosques in Sukkur and Hyderabad.

8,000 Jamaat followers quarantined in Punjab

In Punjab, some 296 foreigners have been put in quarantine centers in Lahore, 10 in Sheikhupura, 45 in Gujranwala, 23 in Sargodha, 17 in Faisalabad, 41 in Multan, and 21 in Dera Ghazi Khan. Five women from Nigeria are being quarantined in Kasur.

In total, 8,000 Jamaat’s followers are being quarantined in Punjab, according to official data. "2,300 [Jamaat’s followers] are in various wards in Lahore,” said the city's deputy commissioner, Danish Afzal.

Meanwhile, Farooq Abbasi, a prominent member of the Tableeghi Jamaat in Rawalpindi, said the group's top leadership is coordinating with authorities to ensure that all their members are screened.

Social gatherings continued

At least 17 positive cases recorded in Islamabad were members of the Jamaat, including six who were from Kyrgyzstan and two Palestinian nationals.

Even after the five-day event in Lahore was cancelled, members of the Jamaat kept holding social gatherings across the country. It was only on Wednesday that the leadership advised their workers to avoid assemblies and practice social distancing.

"It is not true that our followers are the main reason for the spread of the virus in the country — we support the government’s cause,” said Naeem Butt, a leader of the Jamaat. "People must stop criticizing us.”