New Delhi: A large number of people who attended an international conference organised by Tablighi Jamaat at its headquarters in Nizamuddin in Delhi have now tested positive for COVID-19, and at least six of them have died from the disease. In a statement, the organisation has stated that it did not violate any of laws and that the event took place before any sort of lockdown was announced.
Meanwhile, a major operation has been launched to sanitise the entire area. Delhi health minister Satyendra Jain said today that so far 1,033 people have been taken out of the Markaz at Nizamuddin and 24 of them have tested positive for the new coronavirus.
334 sent to hospital, 700 put under quarantine
The minister also disclosed that so far, 334 people from the area have also been sent to hospital as they reported symptoms of the virus and they are being tested for it. He said 700 people have also been put under quarantine. The Delhi government and the police had earlier cordoned off the area after reports of the outbreak there surfaced. On the appeal of the government, the Sports Authority of India last evening also announced that it was converting the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium into a quarantine centre.
The outbreak has caused consternation as the Markaz is located in an area which has a dense population. Also, with the cases now emerging over a fortnight after the conference, there is fear that many more could have contracted the virus.
Home quarantine for 20,000, says L-G
A high level online meeting between Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal and chief minister Arvind Kejriwal that was also attended by senior police and administration officials today discussed the situation.
Following this meeting, Baijal advised the police and civil administration to “take deterrent actions for any violation” of social distancing guidelines.
He also tweeted that the Delhi government has decided to increase the number of food distribution centres to 2,500 and that over 20,000 homes have been identified for home quarantine.
It has been decided to increase the number of food distribution centres from present 500 to 2500 so that social distancing is adhered to effectively.
Home quarantine has to be strictly monitored. More than 20,000 homes have been identified by GNCTD for home quarantine.
— LG Delhi (@LtGovDelhi) March 31, 2020
`Around 1,500-1m700 assembled at Markaz’
Jain, who was also in this meeting, later told the media that estimated 1,500 to 1,700 people had assembled at the Markaz building for the conference. The Markaz, which is also known as Banglewali Masjid, is a six-storey building situated adjacent to the Nizamuddin police station. It is not the same as the Nizamuddin dargah or the shrine of Sufi saint Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya.
He said efforts were underway to test and treat the patients and quarantine the people who were at risk of contracting the virus. At JPN Hospital, where most of those suspected of COVID-19 were sent, a senior doctor said while 21 patients had come in till Saturday, 85 patients were brought in on Sunday, followed by another 102 on Monday.
Meanwhile, as a section of the media tried to give the incident a communal colour and blamed the Jamaat for deliberately violating the guidelines on limits of people who could gather due to the coronavirus threat, the organisation defended itself.
`Meet began on March 13, restriction on groups of 50 came on March 16’
The spokesperson of Tablighi Jamaat, Musharraf Ali Khan, while speaking to a news channel, denied that his organisation did anything wrong. “It is wrong to blame Tablighi Jamaat for it. The entire world is battling this virus,” he said.
On why so many people were called for the Markaz, he said it was the only international centre of the Jamaat. “People come here for a certain number of days and stay in this mosque near the police station. People keep coming every day. It is wrong to say that we deliberately called them,” he explained.
Even as electronic media kept putting out false information on when the Delhi government direction on restricting number of people came into force, Khan coolly pointed out that while the Delhi hovernment’s restriction on gathering of over 50 people had come into effect on March 16, the international meet had begun three days earlier on March 13.
`Invitees were already present, no one was called after restrictions’
He said those who attended the conference were not called after any government directive. “They were already present there. The building is capable of hosting 10,000 to 12,000 people and we restricted the entry of more people after the directions came in.” The Delhi government has reduced the number of people allowed to gather to 20 on March 18 and further to five on March 21.
On the issue of foreign nationals from various countries attending the meet, Khan said: “When foreigners come, they come with valid documents. Screening people and testing them is the responsibility of the government. It is after proper screening that these people came in.”
He said all government orders were followed. “Since the time the government issued directions to us, we have imposed restrictions. We have been informing the administration about every activity of ours.” He said the log book on who all attended the meet has also been shared with the administration.
`People were unable to leave due to travel restrictions’
The Jamaat also issued a statement explaining its stand on the matter. It said: “Before the Janta Curfew could be lifted at 9 PM, the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Delhi announced lockdown of Delhi beginning at 6 AM on 23rd March 2020 till 31st March 2020, thereby further diminishing any chances of these visitors availing road transport for their journey back home. Despite this challenging situation, with the help of Markaz administration, around fifteen hundred visitors left Markaz Nizamuddin by availing whatever meager transport was available.”
On when the outbreak was noticed, the statement said: “On 24th March 2020, suddenly a notice was issued by SHO, P.S. Hazrat Nizamuddin, seeking closure of Markaz premises. The same was responded on 24th March 2020, stating that the compliance of the directions regarding closure of Markaz is already underway and around 1500 people had departed the previous day, thus leaving around 1000 visitors belonging to different states and nationalities in Markaz.”