COVID-19: Cases surge in Northeast after Tablighi Jamaat emerges as cluster

Region has reported 20 cases including 16 from Assam alone; states have stepped up measures to trace people who attended the Nizamuddin meet in Delhi and isolate them

The region has also ramped up its testing in the past two months, conducting over 14.68 lakh tests, Photo: PTI

Just a few days back, the COVID-19 situation in the Northeast wasn’t as grim as the rest of the country. Till the morning of April 1, only three cases had been reported in the entire northeast region. But then the disturbing news came with four new positives in the afternoon. The number eventually shot up to 16 in Assam alone.

The major contributor to the rising cases has been the Tablighi Jamaat in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area, which witnessed a congregation of more than 2,000 people in early March. The meet has emerged as a major COVID-19 cluster after 10 people who attended the meet died of the disease and hundreds have tested positive.

The jamaat connect

So far, 20 positive cases have been reported from the entire Northeast region including two from Manipur and one each from Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh.

All the new cases had a travel history to the infamous Nizamuddin congregation that took place in New Delhi from March 13.

The sudden spike in cases have created a flutter among residents, who are now worried about the spread of the virus.

“Everything was going well. We were hopeful of getting rid of COVID-19 with very less positive cases. We thought that we might even be able to celebrate Bohag Bihu, the Assamese New Year in mid-April. But that didn’t happen. Everything is ruined now,” said Bhaskar Saikia, a businessman from the central Assam town of Nagaon.

Quick steps for containment

Thankfully, the state was well prepared to combat COVID-19 with makeshift quarantine centres and COVID-19-specific hospitals only.

Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said that more than 700 people visited the Nizamuddin area last month.

Related news: Why coronavirus may bring succour to Assam’s ‘stepchildren’

“Based on information provided by the central government, and those collected by our sources and voluntary disclosure, we have a list of 732 people from Assam who were in Nizamuddin area last month,” Sarma said.

Of these, 229 people were just passing by Nizamuddin area or have not returned to the state so far, the minister said.

“That means, we need to trace 503. Out of 503, we have already located 488 people and 395 are in quarantine. Of these, swab samples of 361 people have been tested,” he added.

The positive cases in Assam have been reported from Nalbari, Goalpara, Morigaon and Golaghat districts.

The latest positive cases from Manipur and the first from Arunachal Pradesh also had a travel history to Nizamuddin. A 65-year-old man from Thoubal district of Manipur, the second positive case from the state, is currently undergoing treatment in RIMS Hospital in Imphal. Earlier, a 23-year old girl with travel history to England was tested positive from the state.

Related news: 10,000 Assamese migrants stranded in Mizoram amid lockdown

Similarly, a 31-year-old person who had participated in the Tablighi Jamaat congregation at Nizamuddin Markaz in New Delhi tested positive for COVID-19, becoming the first in Arunachal Pradesh.

The respective governments have also immediately put the family members and people who could have come in touch with them in quarantine.

In a fresh directive, the Tripura health department has ordered almost 69 people to be in quarantine. Of them, 11 had participated in the Tablighi Jamaat at Delhi.

Not the time for communal tiff, say leaders

With the Nizamuddin jamat being a major contributor to COVID-19 cases, many in Assam have tried to give the issue a communal colour.

Responding to such remarks, Assam Congress leader Bhupen Kumar Bora has said that it is not the time to engage in dirty politics but to stand united to fight COVID-19.

“Why this dirty politics at the hour of crisis? Let’s fight together against COVID-19. Health is first,” Bora who is also the national secretary of Indian National Congress tweeted.

Exuding similar sentiments, CPI (ML) leader Bibek Das said it is time to discuss about the healthcare system and chart the road ahead to combat the disease than to engage in dirty politics.

“There are many people like Nizamuddin congregation, who have come through trains and flights and have silently stayed back at home. I have a feeling that a section of people is trying to create a witch hunt-like situation instead of attempting to prevent the disease. Hindu-Muslim politics is not the agenda of coronavirus prevention,” said Das.

Meanwhile, Goria Moria Deshi Jatiya Parishad, an organization of the indigenous Muslims of Assam, has appealed to the public to help in identifying and locating people who had participated in the Nizamuddin congregation.

“It’s time we rose above religious fundamentalism. I appeal to all the Muslims to help in finding out the people who attended the Nizamuddin event and are still hiding inside their homes. They are a threat to the society,” said Nurul Haque, working president of the body.

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