Coronanavirus outbreak: First link on March 17; list of foreigners took till 21st to draw up

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Updated: April 01, 2020 7:31 AM

In its March 28 letter to all states, the MHA said that about 2,000 foreigners of Tabligh association from 70 countries were in different parts of India on tourist visas valid for six months. Most of these foreigners are from Bangladesh (493), Indonesia (472), Malaysia (150), and Thaliland (142).

Interestingly, medical screening of those at the Markaz started only on March 26, after the death of a Tablighi-associated COVID-19 patient was reported from Telangana.

The connection between a Tablighi Jamaat congregation at Nizamuddin in Delhi and the spread of Covid-19 first emerged on March 17, after a case was detected in Telangana. However, it was only by March 21 that the ministry of home affairs (MHA) was able to draw up a list of over 800 foreigners associated with Tablighi activities across the country.

“Information about a Tablighi-associated Covid patient in Telangana first came to us on March 18. An Indonesian who had attended the Tablighi conference at Nizamuddin had travelled to Telangana and tested positive on March 17.

From the next day, intelligence agencies and the Ministry began tracing all foreigners associated with the Talighi Jamaat in various parts of the country,” an MHA official said. According to the ministry, more than 1,000 Tablighi workers of foreign nationalities were in various parts of India on March 21. Of these, 216 foreigners were staying in Nizamuddin Markaz, the epicentre of the spread associated with the Tablighi Jamaat congregation of the first and second weeks of March.

“Additionally, about 824 foreigners had been, as on March 21, doing Chilla activities in various parts of the country… Details of these 824 foreigners had been shared on March 21 with the State Police for identifying them, getting them medically screened and quarantining them,” an MHA statement said.
The statement added that as on March 21, some 1,746 persons were staying at the Hazrat Nizamuddin Markaz. It is not clear what action was taken between March 18 and 21 to screen these people, or to get the Markaz vacated. The Delhi government had on March 13 issued orders prohibiting congregations of more than 200 people for any kind of “sports activity or seminars”.

Interestingly, medical screening of those at the Markaz started only on March 26, after the death of a Tablighi-associated COVID-19 patient was reported from Telangana. According to the MHA, nationals of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Kyrgyzstan generally come for proselytising activities of the Tablighi Jamaat to India. All such foreign nationals normally report their arrival at the Tabligh Markaz at Banglewali Mosque in Hazrat Nizamuddin in New Delhi. From here, they are detailed for Chilla activities to different parts of the country.

Apart from the March 21 missive to states, the MHA has claimed, on March 28, state police were advised to collect the names of Indian Tabligh Jamaat workers from the local coordinators, locate them on the ground, get them medically screened, and quarantine them.

“So far, about 2,137 such persons have been identified in different States. They are being medically examined and quarantined. This process is still on and more such people would be identified and located. On March 28, MHA also issued a detailed advisory to Chief Secretaries and DGPs of all States, as well as CP Delhi, on this issue,” the MHA statement said.

On March 29, Intelligence Bureau chief Arvind Kumar asked state police chiefs to trace the movement of all such Tabligh workers in their area, ascertain the people they were in contact with, and take steps for their medical screening. “Many States have already started doing this,” the MHA statement said.

Claiming that beginning March 26, screening of Markaz residents was being done, the MHA said, “So far 1,203 Tablighi Jamaat workers have been medically screened. (As many as) 303 of them had symptoms of COVID-19 and were referred to different hospitals in Delhi. Rest of them have been moved to different quarantine centres at Narela, Bakkarwala and Sultanpuri. This process will continue throughout today to move every Tabligh Jamaat worker out of Nizamuddin Markaz.”

According to an MHA estimate, since January 1, about 2,100 foreigners had visited India for Tabligh activities. Many left before the lockdown, but over 1,000 stayed on. “Bureau of Immigration has been sharing (since February 1) with State authorities, details of all international arrivals from affected countries based on Self Declaration Form filled-in by them. In addition, since March 6, Bureau of Immigration had also been sharing details of all the international arrivals (both Indians and foreigners) at all the international airports in the country to the concerned State, based on the permanent address mentioned in their passport, in case of Indians, and hotel address, in case of foreigners,” the MHA statement said.

According to MHA figures as on March 21, among the Tablighi foreigners who fanned out across the country, most (125) went to Tamil Nadu, followed by Uttar Pradesh (132), Haryana and Maharashtra (115 each), and Telangana (82).

In its March 28 letter to all states, the MHA said that about 2,000 foreigners of Tabligh association from 70 countries were in different parts of India on tourist visas valid for six months. Most of these foreigners are from Bangladesh (493), Indonesia (472), Malaysia (150), and Thaliland (142).

The MHA said it is committed to “identify, isolate and quarantine COVID-19 positive Tabligh Jamaat (TJ) workers in India post their congregation in Nizamuddin, Delhi”, and hinted at initiating action against them for engaging in “missionary activities” while on tourist visas.

“Usually, all the foreign nationals visiting India as a part of Tabligh team come on the strength of tourist visa. MHA had already issued guidelines that they should not indulge in missionary work on tourist visa. State Police would be examining categories of visas of all these foreign TJ workers and take further action in case of violation of visa conditions,” the MHA said in a statement.

It said Tabligh workers staying in the Markaz in Nizamuddin were “persuaded for medical screening by State authorities and Police”. By March 29, MHA has claimed, nearly 162 Tabligh workers were medically screened and shifted to quarantine facilities.

“So far, 1,339 Tabligh Jamaat workers have been shifted to Narela, Sultanpuri and Bakkarwala quarantine facilities as well as to LNJP, RGSS, GTB, DDU Hospitals and AllMS, Jhajjar. Rest of them are being currently medically screened for COVID-19 infections,” it said.

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