Over 1,500 people from Tamil Nadu had left for Delhi to attend the Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) congregation at Nizamuddin Markaz. Of them, 1,131 have returned but only 800 have been located and quarantined. The authorities are pulling all stops to trace the remaining 331 people, who, for now, are "missing". The officials have launched a massive search for the "missing".
The Nizamuddin Markaz, in the heart of the national capital, is in the eye of a storm after it was discovered that over 1,000 people stayed in the building after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's announcement of a nationwide lockdown. Authorities in Delhi say the gathering was against the law; the Markaz officials defend, saying the police were apprised of all the developments all the time.
In Tamil Nadu, the authorities fear that unless traced and isolated, those missing could turn "super-spreaders" pushing the state to the top of the table of the corona infected. “That is a distinct possibility as the longer they are untraceable, the more people they could be infecting,” a senior officer feared.
“So where are the rest? For now, we are looking only for the 331 who are in the state but are not traceable. The 369, who did not return to the state, could have stayed back in Delhi or gone to other states and we have alerted the neighbouring states about their identity and phone numbers,” said the official tasked with ferreting out these returnees.
The Delhi connection became even more ominous after it came to light that of the 57 new positive cases reported on Tuesday, 50 had returned from the TJ meet. Forty-two of these were from Namakkal and Tirunelveli districts, the sudden spike is being attributed to the tracking down of the TJ attendees and testing them.
“We urge all those who attended the Delhi event to come forward and report for testing, otherwise you could be endangering your community members,” cautioned Health Secretary Beela Rajesh. State Chief Secretary K. Shanmugam said that they have reached out to community leaders to trace the missing 331 many of whom have switched off their mobiles. “Unless they are isolated, it would be difficult to contain the spread,” he said.
The authorities are barricading entire localities in half a dozen districts where the TJ attendees lived. “Also, more than 600 families in these districts have been isolated with the streets they live in being barricaded from both sides after we found that many of them had also attended the talks of preachers from Indonesia and Malaysia who had been touring the state before they were identified and isolated. They had returned with some of the locals who had attended the Nijamuddin congregation,” said a district collector.
A 54-year-old secretary of a mosque in Madurai with no travel history tested positive and died of COVID-19 after he had hosted six foreign preachers at his mosque. Since most of the Muslim houses are located in narrow and confined places, where the people concentration is heavy, the community was far more vulnerable even if one carrier moved among them, warned health authorities. “It is for this reason we are urging them to send the 331 people to hospitals for testing and isolation,” Bheela Rajesh explained.