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Coronavirus | MHA tells States to track foreign Tablighi members

People who came for ‘Jamat’, a religious gathering at Nizamuddin Mosque, being taken to hospital for COVID-19 test, in New Delhi on March 31, 2020.

People who came for ‘Jamat’, a religious gathering at Nizamuddin Mosque, being taken to hospital for COVID-19 test, in New Delhi on March 31, 2020.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Home Ministry letter directed that they be screened, quarantined and deported, if possible.

The Union Home Ministry wrote to all States and Union Territories on March 21 to “identify, screen and quarantine” 824 foreign Tablighi Jamaat members who were travelling to different parts of the country.

Also read: Nizamuddin centre COVID-19 cases spark a controversy

While the Centre disseminated information to the States about the movement of the religious group’s members, the virus had already spread to various parts of the country.

In Jammu and Kashmir, 80% of the COVID-19-positive cases reported so far are linked to an index patient who attended a gathering at Alami Markaz Banglewali Masjid in south Delhi’s Nizamuddin. The patient died on March 26. In Telangana, 50% of the cases are linked to the meetings organised by the Markaz.

Also read: Coronavirus | 1,000 evacuated from Nizamuddin centre; sent to hospitals, quarantine facilities

On March 28, the Home Ministry shot off another letter to the States that around 2,000 Tablighi Jamaat members from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand who entered India on tourist visa appeared to be “potential carriers” of COVID-19. It asked the States to “screen, quarantine” and deport them if possible. All international flights were suspended on March 23 and the country was placed under a 21-day lockdown on March 24 to prevent the spread of the pandemic. 

'Open domain reports'

The March 28 letter said “open domain reports” suggested that several people who attended a religious congregation, held from February 27 to March 1, at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, had tested positive, and hence “thorough screening of those who arrived from Malaysia is urgently needed.” By this time, many cases had been reported in Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. 

According to the Home Ministry’s data, since January 1, 2,100 foreigners had visited India for Tablighi activities and the Bureau of Immigration (BOI) started sharing details of all international arrivals with the States from March 6. 

But before the Ministry issued the letters, several States had already informed the Union Health Ministry’s control room in New Delhi about the positive cases linked to the Markaz. Health Ministry officials did not respond to messages.

On March 21, a day before the ‘Janta Curfew’ was observed, Jammu and Kashmir officials informed the Health Ministry’s control room of the 65-year-old index patient. The patient had tested positive. His contact-tracing revealed that he had travelled to Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Delhi, Deoband in Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Srinagar from February 16.

An SOS was sent to the Centre on March 21 that the patient had possibly contracted the virus from Indonesian and Thai Tablighi members whom he met in Delhi. Around 15,000 people are said to have come in contact with him directly or indirectly as he had travelled by road, rail and air. 

His eight family members have tested positive, and 14 medical staff members, who attended on him at a Srinagar hospital, have been quarantined.

Before this, on March 20, the Telangana police detained 11 foreign nationals from a Tablighi Markaz (centre) in Hyderabad, who were quarantined following an alert from locals.

The Home Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that as on March 21, 824 foreign Tablighi workers were in different parts of the country for missionary work. Further, 1,530 Indian and 216 foreign members were staying in the Delhi Markaz (centre). “All the Tablighi Jamaat members staying at Nizamuddin are being medically examined since March 26” and over 300 of them had showed symptoms.

It said that since March 23, the lockdown has been strictly imposed by the State authorities and the Delhi police, including in and around Nizamuddin, and “Tablighi work came to a halt.”

As reported by The Hindu, the Home Ministry is set to blacklist the 824 foreign Tablighi members who came here on a tourist visa and participated in religious congregations and meetings.

Included in tourist visa

“Usually, all the foreign nationals visiting India as a part of Tablighi team come on the strength of tourist visa. The Home Ministry had already issued guidelines that they should not indulge in missionary work on tourist visa. The State police would be examining categories of visas of all these foreign Tablighi Jamaat workers and take further action in case of violation of visa conditions,” the Ministry said. An official said the role of the local intelligence unit of the Delhi police was also being probed as they failed to report the presence of a large number of foreign nationals at the Markaz.

Assam Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma tweeted on Tuesday that 456 people from Assam were near the Markaz in Delhi and the State government was acting swiftly to quarantine all of them. 

“as and when they reach Assam or those who may have reached.”

On March 26, Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba wrote to all the States that there was a “gap” in the monitoring and surveillance of 15 lakh international air travellers who entered India from January 18 to March 23.

Five members of a mosque in Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh, including the Maulvi, have been booked for allegedly hiding information about the presence of Indonesian nationals who had returned after attending the Tablighi Jamaat meeting in Delhi on March 21.

Eight under home quarantine

The eight foreigners have been put under home quarantine, said a police officer.

Additional Superintendent of Police Sanjay Kumar said the police located eight Indonesian nationals staying at the Jamunwali Mosque in Nagina. The eight were among the foreign nationals who had attended the Tablighi Jamaat meeting in Nizamuddin in Delhi, said the officer.

They had come to Delhi via Bangladesh, following which they went to Odisha and came to Bijnor on March 21, Mr. Kumar said.

Charges were pressed against the Mufti, the Maulvi and three other members of the mosque as an order under Section 144 was imposed during the prevalence of the COVID-19 and they had also been informed about it, the officer said.

(With inputs from Omar Rashid in Lucknow)

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Printable version | May 26, 2020 7:24:15 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/2100-foreigners-visited-india-for-tablighi-activities-this-year-says-mha/article31219576.ece

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