India’s Covid-19 cases go up to 3k, largely driven by Tablighi Jamaat attendees
The jump in infections – from 2,520 on Thursday to 3,066 on Friday – is largely driven by the diagnosis of hundreds of patients who attended the congregation of the Tablighi Jamaat, a Muslim missionary group, in New Delhi’s Nizamuddin last month in a violation of several restrictions.
According to the Union health ministry, at least 647 people among the thousands who gathered at the Jamaat’s headquarters, Nizamuddin Markaz, have tested positive in 14 states in the last two days. “If we see the rise in cases in the last few days, it has primarily been due to an increase at a particular level,” joint secretary in the ministry Lav Agarwal said, referring to the congregation.
The Delhi government said 93 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the national capital on Friday, taking the total count in the city-state to 386 – out of which 259, or 67%, were evacuated from Markaz. Around 1,800 others from the south Delhi area have been quarantined at hospitals across the city, in what has become the country’s largest virus hot spot for the highly contagious infection.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said there was no need to be panic as the situation was under control and that community transmission of the virus was not taking place in the national capital.
The total number of deaths in the Capital stood at six on Friday.
Experts have pointed out that the impact of the lockdown – scientists say it is among the most effective means to break the chain of the contagion – could be undermined if the positive cases originating out of such clusters are not contained in time. It could be particularly challenging for a country of over 1.3 billion people, where the health care infrastructure would not be able to handle a larger outbreak despite the government’s recent efforts to prepare for such a situation.
Since authorities traced a number of infections to the Tablighi gathering, state governments have scrambled to locate and identify those who attended the congregation, with at least 9,000 Jamaat workers and their contacts counted and quarantined till Thursday evening.
Ramping up their efforts to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, authorities on Friday announced exclusive isolation wards and initiated rapid tests in areas identified as hot spots of the infection, with more than 8,000 samples being tested in 24 hours, according to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
ICMR, in an advisory, has recommended the use of a rapid antibody test in the country’s COVID-19 hot spots.
Among the states, Maharashtra has the most number of coronavirus patients, at 490 cases, and 26 deaths.
The 20-22 clusters identified or considered to be potential hot spots include Asia’s largest slum, Dharavi, in Mumbai where three positive COVID-19 cases have been detected till Friday. Although the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has said a containment plan is in place, there are concerns over the implementation of social distancing measures in the 240-hectare slum pocket of 850,000 residents.
On Friday, Tamil Nadu reported a 102-count spike in the number of COVID-19 patients, making it second only to Maharashtra. Out of these, at least 100 were linked to the Jamaat congregation.
“Today 102 new positive cases reported in Tamil Nadu, out of them 100 people had participated in Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi. The total number of positive cases in the state stands at 411, out of which 364 had participated in Delhi’s Jamaat event,” state health secretary Beela Rajesh said.
Telangana and Uttar Pradesh, with 229 and 174 patients respectively, were among the other states to report sizeable jumps in the number of COVID-19 cases on Friday.
Kerala, which until earlier this week had the second-highest number of cases in the country, is now on the fourth spot after Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Delhi. It reported a single-digit increase on Friday.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation and appealed to people to display collective resolve of the country in fighting the pandemic by lighting a candle or a lamp at 9pm on Sunday.
Public health experts have mostly welcomed the Prime Minister’s suggestion of a staggered lifting of the lockdown — but only if it is accompanied by a set of safety measures.
“Movement should be in select groups after they have been approved by the authorities. Let clusters move, like army convoys move, especially agriculture workers. It will also help contain the risk of infection. Prioritize [those] who should be allowed to move, and those should be screened before movement, even if it requires aggressive testing to know the extent of the infection,” said CS Pandav, former president of the India Public Health Association.
According to Union health ministry data, laboratories across the country have so far tested just 66,000 suspected COVID-19 patients for the disease, which has infected more than one million worldwide in just over three months.
Scientists believe that mass testing, along with strict movement restrictions, could be key to breaking the chain of infection and avoid reaching the community transmission stage – a measure India is still falling short of.
“Now that we have the kits, we should be more liberal with testing. I think, by nature’s design community transmission must have started — I would be very surprised if it hasn’t — The number of cases are likely to surge by next week,” said Dr. SK Sarin, director, Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences said on Thursday.