Chennai: Tamil Nadu witnessed yet another surge in coronavirus cases Saturday after 74 people tested positive for Covid-19 in a single day, of which 73 attended the Tablighi Jamaat conference in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area.
It is now the second most affected state with 485 cases after Maharashtra with 537 cases. But health officials in this southern state are confident of battling the crisis.
At a press meet Friday, State Health Secretary Dr Beela Rajesh assured that Tamil Nadu was “still in the second stage and there was no community spread yet”.
On Friday, the state recorded 102 positive cases and 100 among them had attended the Tablighi congregation.
So far, 437 of those who returned from Delhi have tested positive, giving Tamil Nadu the highest number of positive cases related to the event.
As many as 1,500 Tamil Muslims had attended the religious congregation in mid-March, out of which 1,131 have returned and the rest are still in Delhi.
This link between a surge in coronavirus cases and the Tablighi conference was revealed by Dr Rajesh earlier this week. The health secretary had then urged both attendees and those in contact with them to identify themselves.
“People started calling us. They came on their own and gave us details about themselves. Some also gave us information about where we could find others who had travelled with them to Delhi,” said Dr Rajesh.
167 foreign nationals travelled to Tamil Nadu
The first hint of the link between coronavirus cases and the Tablighi Jamaat congregation came when a 49-year-old Thailand national, who had travelled to India on a religious tour died at the Coimbatore Medical College Hospital (CMCH) on 17 March.
His contact points were, however, traced and the government identified a group of people, including a few other Thai nationals staying in Erode. On 22 March, the Tamil Nadu government confirmed that two Thai nationals — labelled patients 5 and 6 — have tested positive for Covid-19.
They had visited the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi.
Many others who had contact or travel history with the Thai nationals have since tested positive for the illness, including some in districts such as Madurai and Salem.
The government also found that 78 of the 167 foreign nationals who visited Tamil Nadu for the purpose had gone back to their respective countries and the rest 89 were quarantined.
Contact tracing, quarantining people
The Tamil Nadu government undertook contact tracing of attendees of the Tablighi Jamaat congregation and also stepped up efforts in door-to-door surveillance. Select areas of Erode, Madurai and Salem, where the infected people moved and stayed around, were also closed off.
As part of containment measures, the local administration also took help of local clergies to convince people to identify themselves. “The families were refusing to get screened. We were firm with them,” Coimbatore collector Rajamani has been quoted as saying.
Kanyakumari District Collector Prashant M Wadnere told ThePrint, “Prior to the health secretary’s appeal to people to identify themselves, we were only given a list of attendees to trace. People cooperated and came forward themselves. We have traced their contacts too. We are also in constant touch with the suspects so that they understand the seriousness and ensure their quarantining is not stigmatised.”
Sources in the district administrations also said many of the attendees had returned from Delhi either on the 23 or 24 March, just before the nationwide lockdown was announced. They have been home since. Officials have, therefore, said that the government is confident of no community spread.
Health secretary Dr Rajesh has been quoted as saying: “We are at the forefront of doing these activities. I don’t think there is a delay.”
On Monday, however, 10 out of 17 positive cases were linked to the Delhi event. The same day, Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswamy blamed the conference for a spike in Covid-19 cases in the state.
Speaking to ThePrint, DMK MP Dr Senthil Kumar said, “Tamil Nadu is late in publicly announcing the link with the Tablighi conference. It could have been done earlier. The first case reported on 15 March was given comorbidity reasons. There has been a lot of under reporting regarding the illness.”
The state is keeping a close watch of 90,412 quarantined people through the local body resources.
“The local body administrators are helping the government identifying people with travel history in their wards/panchayats,” said a student from Delhi who is under home quarantine in Tiruvarur.