Tablighi Jamaat attendees escaped scanner in Telugu states

HYDERABAD: Authorities in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh were so focussed on screening of foreign returnees that they failed to realise that the attendees of Tablighi Jamaat, a religious meeting in Delhi, would be the biggest cause of spread of Covid-19 and fatalities in the states.

The death of six Telangana men, who had attended Tablighi Jamaat convocation in Nizamuddin Markaz in south Delhi, has jolted the authorities as about 1,500 to 2,000 people from the Telugu states had attended the meet.

About 25 to 30 people attended the meeting from each district of both the Telugu states participated in ‘Mashoora’ (convocation) at Hazrat Nizamuddin in Delhi from March 15 to 17.

The biennial event at Tablighi headquarters was also attended by several foreigners and it is suspected that the Indian attendees picked up the coronavirus from them.

Officials said the participants from the Telugu states started returning home on the evening of March 17 and most of them reached their respective destinations between March 18 and 20. Almost all of them returned by trains and with no screening as the symptoms could not be detected.

Telangana had reported first Covid-19 case on March 2 when a techie, working for a firm in Bengaluru, was tested positive. He had returned from Dubai to Bengaluru late February and from there reached Hyderabad by bus.

Following this, the health authorities tightened the screening of those reaching Hyderabad Airport from international destinations. Those with suspected symptoms were quarantined and those tested positive were admitted to state-run hospitals.

After a group of 10 Indonesian preachers belonging to Tablighi Jamaat and on a visit to Karimnagar town tested positive, the health department started tracing preachers from other nationalities. Eight more Indonesians and 12 nationals from Kyrgyzstan were found in Hyderabad’s Mallepally mosque, a centre of Tablighi activity in the city. None of them showed any symptoms of Covid-19 but as a precautionary measure they were all sent into quarantine.

Another group of 12 preachers from Tablighi Jamaat from Vietnam were traced in Nalgonda town. They too were quarantined.

All these foreigners had reached Hyderabad from Delhi by trains and hence remained undetected.

Other foreign returnees at the airport were under strict surveillance. Realising that those who returned from abroad landed in other parts of the country entered the state by train or buses, the government also launched a drive to identify all such people and quarantine them.

However, those who returned from Delhi meet did not come under the scanner. It was only on Saturday that Telangana reported first death due to coronavirus. The 74-year-old man from Hyderabad who was under treatment for pneumonia died at a private hospital on Thursday. As per the government’s directive to report all deaths, the hospital informed the health department, which found that the man returned from Delhi. The body was shifted to state-run Gandhi Hospital and it tested positive for Covid-19.

However, the gravity of the situation became apparent only late Monday when the health department announced that six people who had returned from Delhi meeting died.

The health department of Telangana has already come under criticism from various quarters for not releasing regular medical bulletins about Covid-19 situation in the state. The opposition parties accused the government of suppressing information.

Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao had rubbished the allegations on Sunday. “We are totally transparent. There is nothing to hide,” he had said.

However, 24 hours later the situation changed dramatically. The government may come under attack from opposition to explain this.

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