The number of Covid-19 cases in India has been increasing rapidly for the last three days with 875 people testing positive on 30, 31 March and 1 April.
Almost half of these are linked to the Tablighi Jamaat gathering at the Nizamuddin Markaz in New Delhi.
2,346 people were taken away from the Markaz by the government authorities, out of which 536 who were showing symptoms of Covid-19 were sent to hospital.
The government seems to have discovered the problem with the cluster quite late. In a released by Delhi Police of 23 March, a police officer is seen in a meeting with a delegation of Nizamuddin Markaz warning them of legal action if they do not vacate the premises.
The delegation tells him that 1,500 people left the day before (22 March) and only 1,000 people were left at the mosque. But as it turns out, the delegation was blatantly lying as 2,346 people were evacuated by the government later.
But more importantly, the police officer is asking the delegation to vacate the premises as soon as possible. This shows that the government had no idea that scores of Covid-19 suspects were residing there otherwise it wouldn’t have asked possibly infected people to disperse around the country.
Only on 25 March, a medical team arrived at the mosque and started examining suspects. On 26 March, a person who tested positive for Covid-19 and had visited the Markaz died in Srinagar. After this, six residents from the Markaz were taken to Jhajjar in Haryana and quarantined on 27 March.
Next day, 33 more people were taken to a hospital in Delhi. On 29, a full fledged operation was launched, possibly after the government realised that there were not 1,000 residents but more than double of that were residing there.
Why did the government get to know of the Nizamuddin cluster so late? It is now emerging that people who tested positive early had also attended the gathering in New Delhi but this information wasn’t revealed at the time.
An Indonesia national was tested positive in Telangana on 17 March. Next day, seven more of Indonesia nationals and fellow travellers were tested positive. It was only reported in the media (, and ) that the group had come from Indonesia and took a train from New Delhi to Karimnagar to attend a religious gathering.
State health minister E Rajender had that all the five patients (till then; Indonesian was Patient No 5) acquired the virus abroad. It seems that the Indonesia group didn’t tell the authorities about their visit to the Nizamuddin Markaz. It was simply assumed that the Indonesians came from abroad and proceeded directly to Karimanagar.
But this group of 12 Indonesians, all of whom tested positive, had come to Delhi on 9 March and boarded a train to Telangana on 13 and stayed in the Markaz in between. Some Indian nationals also travelled with them on their journey from Delhi to Telangana.
This was on 17 March. The first Indonesian who tested positive that day was Patient Number 141 in India. Had this group of preachers briefed the authorities of their visit to the Markaz, maybe the government could have acted sooner and quarantined the Nizamuddin mosque thus preventing hundreds to leave for different parts of the country.
Another man who was on the same flight also tested positive the next day. The government probably assumed that he got it from the first patient. The government put all 55 passengers of the plane in quarantine and airport staff who were on duty that day to undergo tests for Covid-19.
When the number of positive cases rose to 6 on 27 March, it was that they were part of a large group who had gone on a religious tour which also included a stay at Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markaz. Reports of initial two cases (, and ) didn’t mention anything about them attending a religious gathering in Delhi.
Similarly, a 65-year old man from Tumkur who had stayed in Delhi from 7 to 11 March and attended the Markaz gathering later tested positive. He was admitted to the hospital on intervening night of 23 and 24 March and his sample was taken in the afternoon.
A prepared by the government after talking to the patient didn’t have any mention of his attending the Markaz. In all likelihood, he hid this crucial information from the authorities. He later died on 27 March.
After his death, there were apprehensions in the media about whether community transmission had already started in India for the Tumkur man had no foreign travel history.
On such cases, Union Health Ministry’s Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal had said that this could be because “sometimes a person is not able to explain to us his contact and travel history.”
Now, it turns out that the Tablighi Jamaat members who had attended Delhi Markaz were most likely deliberately hiding information about their visits. This is not a one-off case but a pattern emerges when one sees similar stories from Telangana to Andaman to Karnataka.
Even in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, some cases where transmission type was not clear, the authorities are finding Tablighi Jamaat connection.
One is not sure why the Jamaat members hid their travel history to Markaz but had they been forthcoming from the beginning, the cluster could’ve been quarantined sooner and more people could’ve been prevented from contracting the virus.