Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Tuesday described the religious gathering at a mosque in Nizamuddin area as “irresponsible” and said such an event should not have been organised amid the coronavirus pandemic. The event had been held between March 8 and March 10.

The chief minister noted the city had a total of 97 coronavirus patients, of whom five have recovered, two people died, and 86 of these cases were in a stable condition. Kejriwal noted that out of the total 97 cases in the national Capital, 24 had been to the Nizamuddin markaz. Forty-one of them had a travel history to other countries, and 22 patients were the family members of those who returned from a overseas trip. Ten cases were yet to be ascertained.

“It was a highly irresponsible act,” the Delhi Chief Minister said at a press briefing. “The world over people are dying and at this time, when all religious places are deserted, they committed such a serious violation. I appeal to all religious leaders, whatever be one’s religion, one’s life is most precious.”

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So far, Kejriwal said 1,548 people had been brought out of Nizamuddin Markaz and 441 of them were symptomatic. They were shifted to hospitals and their tests were being conducted. Out of these, 1,107 people did not show symptoms and were sent to quarantine, Kejriwal added.

“Local transmission is under control and there is no community transmission so far,” the chief minister said. “Coronavirus cases have gone up. The numbers might increase if people from the markaz test positive.”

Around 2,000 people were staying at “Markaz Nizamuddin”, the Delhi headquarters of the Tablighi Jamaat group, for an event organised between March 8 and March 10.

Centre on Nizamuddin case

The Union Ministry of Home Affairs on Tuesday said nearly 2,100 foreign visitors came to India for Tablighi activities since January 1, adding that all of them first reported at the groups’ headquarters in Nizamuddin, which is said to have turned into a coronavirus hotspot.

“On March 21 , approximately 824 foreign Tabligh Jamaat workers were in different parts of the country for missionary work,” the ministry said in a statement. “Besides, around 216 foreign national were staying in the Markaz. In addition, over 1500 Indian TJ workers were also staying in the Markaz while around 2100 Indian TJ workers were touring different parts of the country for missionary work. Since March 23, lockdown has been strictly imposed by State authorities/Police across Delhi including in and around Nizamuddin and Tabligh work came to a halt.”

The ministry added that around 162 of these workers had been medically screened and shifted to quarantine facilities by March 29. So far, 1,339 Tabligh Jamaat workers have been shifted to Narela, Sultanpuri and Bakkarwala quarantine facilities as well as to several other facilities. The remaining were being medically screened for COVID-19 infections. Action will be taken in case of violation of visa conditions, the statement said.

Mosque administration claims it did not violate protocol

However, the mosque administration claimed on Tuesday that it had not violated any quarantine protocol, The Indian Express reported. The administration said that a large group of visitors were stuck at the event because the Centre had suspended all passenger train services across the country.

The administration added that a day after the “janata curfew” on March 22, nearly 1,500 preachers managed to leave for their respective destinations, leaving behind around 1,000 visitors “belonging to different states and nationalities inside the markaz”, reported Hindustan Times. A few of these preachers had reportedly started developing symptoms, such as a cough and a high temperature, but no one considered Covid-19, an unidentified member of the markaz said. The group remained cramped due to the lockdown.

Following this, the police issued a notice on March 24 asking the premises to be closed.

The administration added that it had asked a sub-divisional magistrate to issue vehicle passes so that the stranded guests could return home, but this was not granted. The administration also said that after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a “janata curfew” on March 22, the event was discontinued.

“Before the janata curfew could be lifted at 9 pm, the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Delhi announced lockdown of Delhi beginning at 6 am on 23rd March 2020 till 31st March 2020, thereby further diminishing any chances of these visitors availing road transport for their journey back home,” the mosque said. “Despite this challenging situation, with the help of Markaz administration, around fifteen hundred visitors left Markaz Nizamuddin by availing whatever meager transport was available.”

The mosque said that a medical team had visited the mosque on March 25 to test the visitors who were still stranded. The Delhi Police sealed the mosque on Monday.

Mohammad Adil, a residents’ welfare association volunteer in Nizamuddin West, told that he asked authorities why they had allowed the gathering amid concerns over the spreading Covid-19. He said on the day of the ‘janata curfew, March 22, there were around 3,000 people at the gathering. “After the janata curfew, we managed to disperse 1,400 people,” Adil said. “But most of them came back since the lockdown had sealed borders.”

Adil added that on March 26 the Sub Divisional Magistrate visited the area to assess the situation and see where the people attending the conference could be accommodated “The foreigners were quarantined,” he said. He added that some of the foreigners had come to India in January and February for another big gathering and alleged that authorities did not stop them then. “There was negligence on the part of Markaz authorities but the government should have informed them as well,” he said.