The number of Coronavirus cases in India has shot up to more than 4,000 along with a death toll in excess of 100 lives, and this sudden surge took place on account of a gathering of 8,000 Islamic preachers at the Alami Markaz Banglewali Masjid in the Nizamuddin area of South Delhi- the global centre for Tablighi Network.
The Tablighi Jamaat gathering at the Nizamuddin Markaz really brings to light how a religious gathering can create Super Spreaders across the country across several states- Assam, Tamil Nadu, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Kashmir, Telangana and Maharashtra.
And in this context, shocking reports have come from the state of Andhra Pradesh, where the police have booked a pastor at Rayavaram village in East Godavari district after he violated the lockdown orders and held a prayer meet with more than 100 attendees amidst the Coronavirus outbreak across the world. The prayer was held to mark the beginning of the holy week.
After conducting the raid, the police disclosed that none of the devotees at the congregation were wearing masks and there was almost intake of communion from the same jar, thus throwing social distancing out of the window and creating conditions that are ripe for creating a new COVID-19 cluster.
The pastor, identified as Vijay Ratnam, has been booked under Sections 188 (Disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) and 270 (Malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and other relevant provisions of the Epidemics Diseases Act and the Disaster Management Act.
A pastor arrested in Rayavaram, East Godavari district, #AndhraPradesh. Ignoring lockdown, he was holding a prayer meeting with about 150 ppl. Locals alerted the police. #COVIDIOTS #Covid_19 pic.twitter.com/VIvwS3m7pt
— Revathi (@revathitweets) April 5, 2020
The state of Andhra Pradesh itself has been a victim of the Tablighi Jamaat fiasco as the number of cases in the state shot up after March 20, when a large number of people who had attended the Nizamuddin gathering between March 15-17 started returning to their homes in Andhra Pradesh.
Now, the state might be staring right into the face of another disaster if a huge religious gathering were to take place. What Andhra Pradesh and the rest of the states must consciously guard against is the possibility of mass gathering in Churches on April 10, that is, Good Friday.
The recent history of the spread of the Wuhan virus around the world tells us that religious gatherings, including Good Friday congregations can create Super Spreaders that are almost impossible to contain.
Starting with Tablighi Jamaat itself, which before wreaking havoc in India, had held a fateful four-day conference at the at the Sri Petaling Mosque in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from February 27 to March 1. Nearly two-thirds of the cases in Malaysia were traced to this gathering, making it the hotspot of Coronavirus in Southeast Asia.
The same Tablighi Jamaat also held an Ijtema in Lahore’s Raiwind in Pakistan, which aggravated the Coronavirus spread in Pakistan. Similarly, in France a Church gathering slipped the country into the Coronavirus Pandemic, and ever since the congregation from where the COVID-19 started spreading in France the number of cases has risen from 12 to just below 93,000.
Earlier, Iran had committed a huge blunder by not imposing restrictions when it was hit by Coronavirus, and videos had gone viral from Qom, one of the holiest cities in Iran, in which pilgrims could be seen kissing windows of tombs and shrines, creating a perfect recipe for a massive Coronavirus outbreak. Qom eventually emerged as the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak in the Shi’ite country.
Now, if India doesn’t want to bear the scourge of similar religious gatherings slipping us into greater trouble, a nationwide effort must be made to strictly enforce the lockdown and prohibit all religious gatherings. The fact remains that two major religious occasions are around the corner- Good Friday on April 10 and Shab-e-Barat on April 8 and 9.
Delhi Police has already urged people not to come out of their homes on April 8 and 9 to celebrate Shab-e-Barat, and now the reports of a gathering in an Andhra Church raises apprehensions of the possibilities of a religious gathering on April 10.
Even a single ‘Patient 31’ was enough to engulf South Korea in the Coronavirus Pandemic, and when hundreds gather for a religious congregation the stakes go that much higher. Tablighi Jamaat has already thrown us off-course and another religious congregation spelling trouble, including Good Friday, is the last thing that the nation needs right now.