Nizamuddin coronavirus cluster: What was Jamaat thinking?

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Published: April 1, 2020 3:00:08 AM

The Centre imposed a ban on travellers from Indonesia and Malaysia—the bulk of the Jamaat's foreign visitors were from here—much too late even though the corona spread in these nations were reported much earlier.

Over 3,000 Indian and foreign nationals are believed to have attended the event.Over 3,000 Indian and foreign nationals are believed to have attended the event.

Given how the Tablighi Jamaat event in March in Delhi’s densely populated Nizamuddin (west) area—the Markaz Nizamuddin mosque there serves as the global headquarters of the Jamaat—is now linked to several COVID-19 clusters across the country, it has become the focus of an extensive contact-tracing exercise. Six of the COVID-19 deaths in Telangana as well as one in J&K, apart from reported COVID-19-positive cases even from Tamil Nadu and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, are reportedly tied to the event. Over 3,000 Indian and foreign nationals are believed to have attended the event. It seems quite understandable, thus, the Jamaat and its headquarters are being subjected to intense scrutiny, officially and unofficially.

The Jamaat has claimed, in a press release, that the event is an annual one that is always pre-scheduled—the present one planned a year before—and attendees from across the globe congregate for programmes spread over 3-5 days; also, when the prime minister announced the Janata Curfew for March 22, the Jamaat stopped the ongoing programmes immediately, but the suspension of Railways services from March 21 stranded a large number of attendees who were supposed to travel back; the lockdown ensured no one could leave after that either. While this aims at suggesting the Jamaat didn’t break any official diktats, there are unanswered questions such as why, despite the Delhi government’s ban on religious or social congregations that came into effect on March 16, the gathering didn’t disperse then. The larger issue, however, is that while the global spread of corona was well known—even before WHO finally declared it a pandemic on March 11—why didn’t the Jamaat cancel the event, especially given many of the attendees were from countries hit by corona?

Of course, the central and state governments were also lax. The Centre imposed a ban on travellers from Indonesia and Malaysia—the bulk of the Jamaat’s foreign visitors were from here—much too late even though the corona spread in these nations were reported much earlier. And, the Delhi government never thought to implement its own order; or did it not even know it was being violated? While Jamaat is rightfully facing flak, others have got away lightly due to just good luck, in the sense that there was no major corona outbreak when they decided to ignore the corona risk. The Madhya Pradesh unit of the BJP took out a grand welcome rally for Jyotiraditya Scindia on March 12, ignoring experts’ call to practise social distancing; and Karnataka CM BS Yediyurappa ignored his own government’s ban on large gatherings, to attend a wedding ceremony attended by nearly 2,000 on March 15. In Uttar Pradesh, the Ayodhya administration insisted on organising a grand Ram Navami mela from March 25-April 2, despite the advice of its chief medical officer; the event was called off only on March 21, two days after the PM’s Janata Curfew announcement, presumably under pressure from the Centre. Given lakhs would have attended the event, chances of a massive spurt in infections couldn’t have been ruled out.

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