Nizamuddin Coronavirus hotspot: Everyone who knew about the religious gathering at Delhi's Markaz Tablighi Jamaat
- The religious gathering at Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin began on March 13, a day before Delhi’s announced a city-wide lockdown.
- Many of the attendees reportedly entered the country with tourist visas instead of missionary visas required for religious congregations.
- A former Indian diplomat told Business Insider that religious congregations with international visitors normally need additional approvals from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
- The Delhi police claims that it sent two notices to the occupants of Markaz Tablighi Jamaat which were ignored.
Within Delhi, the Hazrat Nizamuddin Police Station is located right next to the Markaz mosque. It’s unlikely that the authorities were unaware of the situation developing right in their neighborhood.
While it's easy to say that the gathering violated the lockdown parameters, the bigger question is why no precautionary measures were taken to keep the situation from snowballing into a crisis.
According to officials, over 3,000 people were present at the event, which means it’s unlikely that the gathering went unnoticed.
Before the event — Ministry of External Affairs and immigration
Since many attendees were foreign nationals, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) would have had to issue visas for them to enter the country. However, since the gathering at Nizamuddin was a religious congregation, travel authorisation requires a special missionary visa, rather than the regular tourist visa.
“There is a separate visa for those who wish to visit India for a religious event just as there are separate visas for those who wish to participate in a business conference and a sporting match,” according to a former Indian diplomat, who wished to remain anonymous.
He told Business Insider that religious congregations with international visitors normally need additional approval from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). So a person who wishes to attend a religious event of any kind, has to apply for a missionary visa — not a tourist visa.
Due to these violations, it’s difficult for the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to furnish a list of attendees that came in from other countries. Anyone found attending the event with the incorrect visa will likely be black listed from here on out, said the official.
During the event — Delhi government and local police
The religious gathering began on March 13 and Delhi's lockdown was only announced by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on March 14. However once the announcement was made, the people at Nizammudin Markaz did not evacuate to implement social distancing.
Even as foreign visitors streamed in, they were not scanned for symptoms at the gates before entering the event. There were no precautionary measures put in place.
Furthermore, on March 16, gatherings of more than 50 people were banned in Delhi till March 31.
Delhi government claims that the gathering was a criminal act. It had already put the directive prohibiting public gathering under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 and the Delhi Epidemic Diseases COVID-19 Regulation, 2020 in place on March 13.
A case has been registered against Maulana Saad, head of the Tablighi Jamaat, and other officials of the group of defying the lockdown. In a letter to the Lajpat Nagar district commissioner by Malauna Yusf on behalf of the Markaz mosque, pointed out that the Delhi government knew about the situation at Nizamuddin.
After the event — Ministry of Railways warns passengers
The first indication of the Coronavirus outbreak spreading from Nizamuddin to other parts of the country was when 10 Indonesians tested positive for the infection in Telangana.
Even before the nationwide lockdown by Modi, the Ministry of Railways had issued a warning that some of its passengers were found positive for Coronavirus. They told customers to avoid all non-essential travel which was reportedly due to people travelling home from the congregation at Nizamuddin, according to Times of India.
Railways has found some cases of Coronavirus infected passengers in trains which makes train travel risky. Avoid… https://t.co/F78qVX3ox3— Ministry of Railways (@RailMinIndia) 1584784455000
On March 23, a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Janata Curfew, around 1,500 people finally left the premises. A day later, the nationwide lockdown was put into place for the next 21 days.
According to the mosque officials, no new people were allowed to enter the building after the lockdown was announced. As per Modi's announcement, they stayed put instead of risking movement.
However, the Delhi government has a different take of the situation. Adhering to the new regulations, the Nizamuddin Police reportedly asked the people who were still at the Markaz to leave on March 24. However, nearly 1,000 people continued to stay put despite the lockdown orders.
"The national lockdown was imposed on March 24 and it was the duty of every owner and administrator of every hotel, guesthouse, hostel and similar establishment to maintain social distancing," said the government's statement.
A day later, on March 25, a medical team finally visited the building — isolating those who were suspected of having Coronavirus into an empty hall within the Markaz. Only then did the Jamaat officials go to the authorities to file an application for passes to vacate the area — including 17 passes for vehicles to assist in transportation.
Before evacuation could happen, a 65-year old Indian preacher who attended the religious event died after testing positive for Coronavirus in Jammu and Kashmir’s Srinagar on March 26.
The sub-district magistrate visited the Markaz to call Jamaat officials to meet the district magistrate. They agreed to allow the movement of vehicles so that people can be evacuated from the mosque.
Evacuation of Markaz Tablighi Jamaat
According to the Delhi Police, they sent two notices, on March 23 and March 28, to the mosque committee asking them to vacate, but were ignored. The second notice came after the six suspected cases were evacuated from the mosque and sent to a quarantine facility at Jhajjar in Haryana on March 27.
On the day of the notice, a team of doctors from the World Health Organisation (WHO) visited the mosque along with the sub-district magistrate. They found 33 people with symptoms, who were subsequently sent into isolation at the Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Hospital in Delhi.
As the entire situation unfolded, the deputy chairman of the SDMC standing committee, Rajpal Singh, pointed out that the Markaz mosque is an unauthorised construction asking the district commissioner to seal the building.
Meanwhile, Assistant Commissioner of Police at Lajpat then sent an eviction notice their way on March 28. The next day, six people in Telangana who were at the event and tested positive for Coronavirus died — and that’s when the news made national headlines, and authorities sprung into action.
Even though a lot of people were in the know of what was happening in Nizamuddin, staggered information and misinformation seem to be the cause how Coronavirus was able to slip under the radar. And, it could be India’s first case of community transmission that has already killed eight people and infected at least 117 as of now.
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