A Singaporean is among hundreds of people quarantined in India after attending a large Islamic religious gathering that is being seen as India’s super-spreader event.
A cleric associated with the Tablighi Jamaat, a Muslim missionary movement which organised the gathering, also confirmed the presence of the Singaporean.
“One Singapore man is among the foreign nationals. He is in quarantine,” Maulana Abdul Aleem Saad told The Straits Times yesterday.
Indian media, quoting government officials, also reported that a Singaporean was among the foreign nationals who were evacuated from the Tablighi Jamaat’s headquarters in Delhi.
At least 323 people have tested positive for Covid-19 and seven have died so far after attending the event organised between March 13 and 15. Those who tested positive include 190 people who subsequently travelled from Delhi to the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
India, which is in the midst of a 21-day lockdown, has 1,637 coronavirus cases and 38 deaths.
The authorities, who believe infections were caused by preachers who came from Indonesia, are frantically trying to trace thousands of others who dispersed to different parts of the country ahead of the lockdown, which came into force on March 25 at midnight.
Those who were at the headquarters have been evacuated even as the organisers stare at criminal charges for going ahead with the event amid the outbreak and failing to practise social distancing.
Ministry of Health joint secretary Lav Agarwal said 1,800 people “related to Tablighi Jamaat (in Delhi) have been sent to nine hospitals and quarantine centres”.
The Tablighi Jamaat is a revivalist movement that focuses on spiritually reforming Muslims and urging them to practise what the group believes is Islam’s true form. Its centre in Nizamuddin in Delhi functions as its international headquarters.
Amid criticism from different quarters on why the religious event was allowed to go ahead, Maulana Saad said the organisation was caught unawares by the fast-unfolding events. “For months, we have thousands of people coming in. In March, there were over 8,000 people. We managed to send most of the people back, but people got stuck at Nizamuddin after the lockdown. What could we do? We couldn’t throw them out onto the streets.”
Days before the Delhi event, the Tablighi Jamaat held a bigger congregation in Malaysia that was attended by about 16,000 people. As of Monday, at least 1,290 of them have tested positive for coronavirus.
The centre in Delhi houses a mosque and can provide lodgings to thousands of pilgrims who sleep on the floor in close proximity. It has now been completely evacuated and sanitised by the authorities.
The centre is ironically situated a stone’s throw from the local police station. The police have been negotiating with representatives from the centre to have it cleared but were told that many pilgrims were stuck because of the lockdown.
Tablighi Jamaat events have also been blamed for spreading the virus in Indonesia and Malaysia.
The Indian authorities are also looking at whether the 281 foreign nationals evacuated from the Delhi centre had violated visa rules. They include Indonesians and Malaysians.
ANI, an Indian news agency, reported yesterday that the Ministry of Home Affairs had asked the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to screen foreigners associated with the Tablighi Jamaat programme.
Those found positive for coronavirus are to be quarantined while others are to be deported on the first available flight. “Till that time, such persons must be confined and quarantined by his host organisation,” said the home affairs ministry in a letter. It also urged the MEA to refrain from granting tourist visas to foreigners who are likely to use them for Tablighi Jamaat’s missionary activities.
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The Straits Times