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New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi after lighting a lamp to express the country's unity in fight against Covid-19, in New Delhi. He had urged people in a video message to light lamps, candles and flash mobile phone lights at 9pm for 9 minutes (Photo: PTI)
New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi after lighting a lamp to express the country's unity in fight against Covid-19, in New Delhi. He had urged people in a video message to light lamps, candles and flash mobile phone lights at 9pm for 9 minutes (Photo: PTI)

Nine minutes of cheer even as coronavirus cases spiral

  • Virus cases doubling at a faster rate because of the Nizamuddin flare-up, but government has drawn up a battle plan to contain spread of the disease
  • The Tablighi case has sparked one of the nation’s most challenging manhunts, stretching from Kashmir to Tamil Nadu

New Delhi: The government on Sunday claimed Tablighi Jamaat, a religious event that was held in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area just days before the 21-day lockdown was announced, has contributed to doubling of coronavirus cases in India, undoing India’s efforts to contain the spread.

So far, more than 1,200 cases and at least 10 deaths have been linked to people who attended the three-day event at the headquarters of the religious group.

“The doubling rate of covid-19 cases in India is currently 4.1 days. This is due to Tablighi Jamaat. Had this event not taken place, the doubling rate would have been 7.4 days," Lav Agarwal, a joint secretary at the health ministry, said on Sunday.

The assessment may have a significant impact on the government’s decision to extend the lockdown in parts of the country. Meanwhile, people in various states of the country on Sunday turned off the lights of their houses and lighted earthen lamps, responding to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's '9 pm, 9-min' appeal to defeat the coronavirus in the country.

The Tablighi case has sparked one of the nation’s most challenging manhunts —stretching from Kashmir to Tamil Nadu—with authorities trying to identify those who participated in the event or came in close contact with them.

In Uttar Pradesh (UP) alone, authorities have identified 1,499 members of Tablighi Jamaat and 132 covid-19 positive cases. On Sunday, the state decided to extend section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in Gautam Buddh Nagar till 30 April. UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath also indicated that the lockdown in the state would be lifted from 15 April in a “phased manner".

The Union health ministry’s containment plan for large outbreaks has clearly stated “intensive risk communication campaign will be followed to encourage all persons to stay indoors for an initial period of 28 days, to be extended based on the risk assessment. Based on the risk assessment and indication of successful containment operations, an approach of staggered work and market hours may be put into practice".

“While the central government has already conveyed that lockdown would not be extended, we cannot be sure that such incidents wouldn’t happen again. We are looking at our preparations for preventing the spread in the whole country," Arun Singhal, special secretary, ministry of health and family welfare, said in an interview.

“We are anyway looking at the worst-case scenario, keeping such lapses in mind. We are doing our level best to prevent the virus from spreading and the decisions to be taken further will also depend on the current and future situation in mind," he said.

With as many as 4,000 people who attended the Tablighi Jamaat event leaving Delhi by trains, buses and flights to various parts of the country, efforts to trace all those who came in contact with them have become complicated.

Public health experts have said that the situation may spin out of control, if social distancing measures being put in place by the government are not adopted strictly.

Lalit Kant, a scientist and former head of epidemiology and communicable diseases at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), pointed out that incidents like the Tablighi Jamaat event are likely to happen and have the potential to undo the impact of most of the other interventions instituted. “Our system has to be prepared to tackle these situations. It has to be taken in stride. It may be too soon to arrive at any conclusion on the impact of the 21-day lockdown on the epidemic curve," said Kant.

Police and administrations of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Telangana, Kerala and UP are trying to trace suspected covid-19 carriers related to the Tablighi Jamaat event.

Samit Bhattacharyya, associate professor, department of mathematics, Shiv Nadar University who has been mathematically modelling the covid-19 spread and has claimed that the numbers are underestimated in the current scenario said, “In the theory of epidemiology and disease transmission, this (TJ) is exactly called super-spreading event. Some random event can potentially increase the chance of transmission. About 20% such events in entire population can contribute 80% of infections in a very short while."

According to the Union health ministry, clusters have appeared in multiple states, particularly Kerala, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, UP, Delhi, Punjab, Karnataka, Telangana and the Union territory of Ladakh.

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